Citizenship and the Law of Time in the United States
27 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2014
Date Written: April 8, 2013
This Article uses the case of early US citizenship law to illustrate four larger points about the relationship between rights and time in a liberal democracy.
First, measured time is integral to establishing the boundaries of a sovereign population and to the extension of citizenship within the boundaries of states. Dates such as those associated with the union of the Scottish and Irish crowns establish sovereign boundaries around a population of subjects, marking only those born in the territory after the moment of establishment as legal subjects. Consent-based democracies such as the United States adapt the citizenship principle to permit critical periods of constitutional reasoning rather than relying on single moments of establishment in which subjecthood is bestowed on persons without their consent.
Second, the establishment of pivotal dates and durations of time reflects a set of beliefs and commitments about the moral value of time in politics. Measured time is an important means with which polities can embody, represent, and quantify intangible moral qualities and relationships such as allegiance, consent, civic virtue, and experience. Temporal laws and policies embody a form of commensuration in which intangible personal and political qualities are translated into precise quantities of time. Time provides a way for a state to create and administer uniform rules for transforming non-citizens into citizens particularly in cases of disagreement about whether non-citizens should be included at all.
Third, after the qualitative moral traits of a citizen have been expressed in the tangible quantitative terms of measured time, durations of time can be exchanged for rights and political status. In short, time has political exchange value. It is used to create temporal equations in which time (other actions and qualities) = citizenship rights. Fourth, the use of time in the establishment and conferral of citizenship rights helps negotiate tensions between conflicting doctrines of membership. Because time appears to treat all subjects and citizens identically, progressing at the same rate for all, temporal rules offer the appearance of objectivity and even-handedness associated with liberalism. At the same time, people’s time can be valued or devalued in subjective ways that reflect situated judgments. Finally, time is a highly efficient means with which bureaucratic states can process complex decisions such as “which criminals have paid their debt to society and/or rehabilitated themselves?” and “who is mature and qualified for full citizenship?” Polities are therefore very likely to turn to temporal laws and policies to facilitate compromise and lawmaking in the context of normative conflict.
Keywords: Immigration, citizenship, naturalization, rights
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