Constitution Project Releases Statement Opposing the Terrorist Expatriation Act

Legislation introduced by Senators Lieberman and Brown raises serious constitutional concerns

CONTACT: Matthew Allee, (202) 580-6922 or

WASHINGTON – Today, the Constitution Project’s bipartisan Liberty and Security Committee released a Statement Opposing the Terrorist Expatriation Act, in response to legislation introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA) and Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), shortly after the failed bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square. The Statement explains the serious constitutional problems raised by this bill and ultimately urges Congress to reject this proposal. In particular, the 29 members of the committee joining the Statement point out that citizenship is a fundamental constitutional right that cannot be taken away unless it was unlawfully obtained or voluntarily renounced.

The Statement Opposing the Terrorist Expatriation Act states, in part:

“The Terrorist Expatriation Act raises several serious constitutional concerns. Moreover, there is no need for such a law. Whether they are American citizens or not, terrorism suspects can and should be prosecuted in court to the full extent of the law. Congress should reject such expatriation proposals as being both unnecessary and dangerous; unnecessary because existing laws already provide more than adequate penalties for U.S. citizens who engage in acts of terrorism; dangerous because such proposals would forever dilute one of our most fundamental constitutional rights.”

“This legislation is not only unneeded for our counter-terrorism efforts, but it seeks to strip Americans of a most fundamental right—that of being a United States citizen,” said William H. Taft, IV, legal advisor for the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration and Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration, and member of the Project’s Liberty and Security Committee. “Sadly, although cloaked in patriotism, this legislative proposal is actually ugly demagoguery that should be rejected by Congress. Our law already provides harsh punishment for U.S. citizens who commit terrorist acts.”

The Project’s Liberty and Security Committee is made up of policy experts who represent the full political spectrum, including former members of Congress, former government, intelligence and military officials, academics and advocates. These members came together to express their concerns that Congress cannot and should not seek to strip protected constitutional rights. In addition, members point out that by incorporating existing laws on material support for terrorism, the bill also incorporates the constitutional flaws plaguing those laws. In particular, the material support statutes raise serious due process and First Amendment concerns.

“The Supreme Court has long recognized that the constitutional right of citizenship cannot be taken away unless a person obtained it illegally or voluntarily renounced American citizenship,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, Constitution Project Senior Counsel. “The Terrorist Expatriation Act is a distressing example of legislation based on fear and anger rather than smart counter-terrorism strategies. We call on Congress to reject this bill.”

The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee has put forth recommendations on a wide range of national security related issues, including the use of terrorist watch lists and immigration detention. Closely related to today’s release, last fall the Committee issued a report on Reforming the Material Support Laws: Constitutional Concerns Presented by Prohibitions on Material Support to “Terrorist Organizations.” That report explained how existing laws prohibiting material support sweep so broadly as to chill protected First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

Click here to view the Statement Opposing the Terrorist Expatriation Act in full.

Click here to view Reforming Material Support Laws: Constitutional Concerns Presented by Prohibitions on Material Support to “Terrorist Organizations.”

Click here to view other reports and statements of the Liberty and Security Committee.

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