Revisiting legislation of the 111th Congress

As we approach the close of the 111th Congress and reflect on major legislative actions such as the health care reform bill, I think we should also reflect on legislation that was certainly key legislation that, arguably thankfully, never made it to Obama’s desk. There is likely plenty to go through, but for now I’ll start with two bills in particular.

Puerto Rican statehood (HR 2499)

Back in April 2010, word started to spread about a vote on legislation that would propose the question of statehood to Puerto Rican residents. When the question has been asked of whether Puerto Rico should become a full State under the United States, Puerto Rico has consistently said No.

Under the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010, HR 2499, a two-part question would be posed to Puerto Rican citizens:

  1. Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status, or
  2. Puerto Rico should have a different political status

Seems pretty benign at first, but those who wrote the bill know that Puerto Ricans don’t like their current political status, so the question was formulated in such a way as to elicit a majority response to the latter option, which then asked voters to consider and select one of four options for a new political status:

  1. Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States
  2. Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.
  3. Statehood: Puerto Rico should be admitted as a State of the Union.
  4. Commonwealth: Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status.

Of these four options, the third option was presumed to be most popular among those most likely to select the second option above. By structuring the ballot measure in this fashion, the hope by those backing this initiative is that a plurality would vote to make Puerto Rico a full State.

So what happened to the bill?

The bill was originally introduced May 19, 2009, by Representative Pedro Pierluisi, the representative of Puerto Rico in the United States Congress, though under the Constitution he does not have any voting rights in the House. He is a member of the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico and is affiliated with the Democratic Party.

On April 29, 2010, the bill was considered in the full House for passage. It would pass the House by a vote of 223 to 169, with 37 representatives not voting and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter [D-NY(28)] voting as Present. The last action reported on the bill occurred on May 19, 2010, where the bill was taken up by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In other words, the bill was basically silently killed without even being assigned a Senate bill number.

Should we worry about this bill being introduced in the 112th Congress next year? The possibility is certainly there. However given how much of a ruckus arose over this bill, I don’t think it would go anywhere if the attempt was made. This bill would have resulted in a tremendous fraud perpetrated on the citizens of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Stripping citizenship without a trial (HR 5327, S 3327)

Recall on May 1, 2010, how a Pakistani-born naturalized citizen of the United States named Faisal Shahzad attempted a bombing in Times Square in New York City. He pled guilty to charges and is now serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In the wake of that attack came attacks on the Miranda warning by Senator John McCain, among others, but also a call by Senator Joseph Lieberman to look at our expatriation laws.

Expatriation consists of two key things: deporting a person from the United States and subsequently stripping them of their citizenship. Under the current law, a citizen of the United States cannot be stripped of their citizenship while they still live in the United States. Further a person cannot be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship unless they have been convicted of one of several enumerated offenses or conditions, defined in 8 USC § 1481(a).

Further, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980), a person cannot be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship unless it can be shown that the crimes or actions were also committed with the intent of relinquishing one’s citizenship.

So basically there is plenty of law and precedent surrounding one simple notion: the government of the United States does not have the power or authority to strip a person of their citizenship unless that person has acted with the express or implied intent of relinquishing one’s citizenship. In other words, you cannot be stripped of your citizenship unless you want that to happen.

Now again, you risk losing your citizenship when you are convicted of various offenses against the United States. However Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced legislation into the Senate that would allow for expatriation for additional offenses against the United States, but with one key difference: no conviction in a District Court of the United States would be required.

I sent an e-mail to Senator Lieberman’s office, but received only a form letter response to my inquiry. I did not pursue it further.

So what of the legislation itself? What happened with it? In short: nothing.

In the Senate, Lieberman introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act of 2010 as S. 3327 on May 6, 2010. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where no action on the bill has since been taken.

In the House, Congressman Jason Altmire [D-PA(4)] introduced the same bill as HR 5237. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and was subsequently referred to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law on June 15. No action has been taken since, and I don’t anticipate any action actually occurring between now and January in either the House or Senate on this one.

Will the bill be reintroduced in the 112th Congress? I’m doubtful. With huge pushes by the people for a House and Senate more leaning toward personal liberties, a bill that gives the Department of State the ability to strip a person of their citizenship without the benefit of a criminal trial will likely be seen as an affront to liberty and not tolerated.