Friday, July 17, 2015

Rice on "Seven Years a Citizen"

Daniel B. Rice, a recent graduate of the Duke University School of Law, has posted The Riddle of Ruth Bryan Owen.
Ruth Bryan Owen (Credit)
This Article recovers a lost chapter of constitutional history — the ill-fated challenge to Ruth Bryan Owen’s congressional eligibility. Owen was the brilliant (and American-born) daughter of famed politician William Jennings Bryan. The Expatriation Act of 1907 ironically stripped Owen of her American citizenship when she took a British husband. Congress swiftly repealed this loathsome feature after the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification. Owen had been a naturalized citizen for three years at the time of her House election in 1928, and she had accumulated far more citizenship credit in her youth. Even so, her defeated opponent claimed that she hadn’t “been seven Years a Citizen of the United States” as the Constitution requires. The House therefore faced an unenviable adjudicative dilemma: does “seven Years” mean the immediately preceding seven years, or any seven years cumulatively?

Owen’s case explodes the conventional assumption that “mathematical” constitutional provisions are, by nature, self-interpreting patches of plain meaning. And in recounting Owen’s historic victory, this Article presents powerful new evidence that women came to be seen as improper objects of state-sanctioned discrimination after the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification. Owen’s triumph marks an important turning point in American women’s effort to achieve full constitutional equality. Because scholars have forgotten her story, they have overlooked crucial sources that might have helped provide a historically firmer basis for sex-discrimination doctrine.