French Justice Minister Taubira resigns over nationality row

After a hard year of terrorist attacks in Paris, France is considering constitutional reform that could strip some convicted terrorists of French citizenship. 

Jacques Brinon/AP Photo
French outgoing Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, left, speaks watched by the newly appointed Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas in Paris, Wednesday. France’s charismatic justice minister has resigned after objecting to the president’s push to revoke citizenship of convicted terrorists with dual nationality.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned on Wednesday in protest of proposed legislation that would remove French nationality from dual nationals convicted of terrorist activity.

Ms. Taubira, an outspoken critic of recent government proposals, tweeted after her resignation, “Sometimes to resist is to stay, sometimes to resist is to leave.”

The proposed constitutional change is part of French President François Hollande’s response to a pair of 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The country has been in a state of emergency since the most recent attacks in November.

In late December, President Hollande proposed amending France’s constitution to allow broader emergency police powers, including warrantless searches, and the nationality proposal that Taubira resigned to protest.

If this constitutional change is approved, it will apply only to dual nationals who are born in France. Critics fear that if the proposal is implemented, it will in essence create a second class of French nationals, who automatically lose the right to feel secure in their nationality from the moment they are born.

Another practical concern is that stripping terrorists of French nationality could leave them stateless, although Prime Minister Manuel Valls has countered that fear with assertions that only dual nationals would be eligible to lose nationality.

Mr. Valls praised the proposal, saying “Removing French nationality from those who blindly kill other French in the name of an ideology of terror is a strong symbolic act against those who have excluded themselves from the national community.”

France’s political left, which includes Taubira, is wary of the rightward shift in French political ideology evidenced by Hollande’s suggestions. Although most French people approve of the proposals, academics and politicians alike have made their opinions of the “un-French” constitutional reform plan known.

French historian Patrick Weil concurred that if the proposal was carried out, it could threaten France’s unity and identity. “The principle of equality is one of the pillars of French identity … It [the citizenship proposal] is a terrible break with the fundamental principles of the French republic.”

Other critics have suggested that stripping terrorists with dual nationality of their French passports, called “déchéance” or “forfeiture,” is unlikely to deter attacks.

Taubira’s resignation was precipitated by the fact that the constitutional reform proposal came before Parliament Wednesday.

In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Taubira said, “My conscience is my boss, and my conscience dictates rules that are extremely, I’d say, grand — they’re rough but beautiful.”

The former justice minister’s criticism of the forfeiture proposal springs from her adherence to that conscience. It is not in line with France’s republican values, she says.

Hollande will replace Taubira with fellow socialist Jean-Jacques Urvoas of Brittany. Mr. Urvoas is a security expert and a known friend of Valls. Former Justice Minister Taubira was scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. for conferences on Wednesday night. That trip has been canceled.

Although Taubira’s resignation reinforced her disapproval of Hollande’s actions, the two parted ways amicably. Hollande praised her “conviction, determination and talent” in the name of justice.

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