Citizenship and Jurisdiction in Ame-Comi Girls

Lately I’ve been working through our backlog of mailbag questions.  Today’s post comes from this email from Jesse, who offers this background:

In issue six of [Ame-Comi Girls] after having saved the world from Brainiac, the heroes discuss their next move when Steve Rogers Trevor, representing the U.S government, informs them—with the exception of Wonder Woman (who possesses Themysciran citizenship)—that they are subject to US law as American citizens which does not allow for vigilantism. He goes on to say that they are warned not to commit any more acts of vigilantism until legislation can be set in motion which would recognize them as acting under the United Nations.

Power Girl (who is of Kryptonian origin and the analogue of superman in this universe) suggests that they could operate from the Fortress of Solitude (Which apparently serves as a Kryptonian embassy located in Metropolis). However Steve Trevor informs them that the United States could ask the embassy to leave and insist that the heroes answer to American authority. (Particularly over the matter of the Batgirl and Robin in this universe being in high school. Something that the government frowns upon as they are still recognized as minors.)

Wonder Woman asserts that she will simply grant them Themysciran citizenship which would make them all subject to Amazonian law which would allow them to continue their acts of vigilantism without answering to American law.

Steve Trevor asserts that this would apparently work for a time but that there would be a number of legal issues if one of them was killed in action.

To counter this, Power Girl asserts that she has the authority to grant them all Kryptonian Diplomatic status as well as the Themysciran citizenship, making them not subject to American authority. Steve Trevor protests this, particularly regarding the fact that half of the team is under 21 but apparently, these actions cannot be countered and he leaves.

This all led to the following questions:

*Could a legislation making allowances for superheroes actually be made? Specifically one that recognizes superheroes as serving under the United Nations.

*Can a nation ask an embassy to leave? I know that this can apply to an ambassador but….

*Could another nation simply grant an American citizen citizenship/diplomatic status? Would something like that even be recognized or is there a process for relinquishing one’s American status?

*Finally, would the whole process even work from a legal stand point as a means for the heroes to continue doing what they were doing?

I’m going to address each of these questions in turn.

I. UN Superheroes

This part seems fairly straightforward.  The US could pass a law or resolution declaring that the US superheroes are acting as UN Peacekeepers, and the UN could pass an appropriate resolution accepting and deploying the superhero forces.  This approach would limit the heroes’ actions to countries that accepted the presence of the Peacekeepers, though.  It would probably also require Security Council approval, but we can ignore that political reality.

II. Kicking Out an Embassy

The short answer here is “yes.”  Contrary to popular belief, embassies are not actually little pieces of the guest country’s sovereign territory.  It would raise a tremendous diplomatic ruckus to do so, but a host country could evict an entire embassy.  Apparently the UK considered doing so in order to get at Julian Assange, for example.  But this is tantamount to completely cutting off diplomatic relations and would not be undertaken lightly.

III. Granting Foreign Citizenship

Sovereign countries can be as promiscuous with their citizenship as they like, and citizenship can be granted outside the normal naturalization process.  The US does it from time to time via private acts of Congress, for example.  The recipient of the foreign citizenship would not even necessarily have to relinquish their US citizenship first, nor would accepting the new citizenship necessarily result in loss of the US citizenship.  8 U.S.C. § 1481, the statute covering loss of citizenship, would not seem to apply if the foreign citizenship were voluntarily offered by the foreign government and did not require an oath of allegiance.  Care would have to be taken that the superheroes were not considered officers in the foreign military, though.

IV. Would This Even Work?

And this is where it all comes crashing down.  If the superheroes are operating in US territory, then the US has jurisdiction over them even if they aren’t US citizens.  And if they try to become foreign diplomats (via Themyscira or Krypton, say), then the US can simply kick them out.  If they refuse to leave then the US can exercise jurisdiction over them in the usual way.

If the superheroes decide to operate exclusively outside the US, then renouncing US citizenship would really get them very few benefits.  Eventually (after the usual penalty period) they would get to stop paying US income tax on income earned in foreign countries, and a few laws affecting actions abroad by US citizens like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act wouldn’t apply.  But that’s about it.  Waiting for formal legal approval from the US (or whatever country they want to operate in) is probably the better approach.

As an aside: “vigilantism” isn’t a crime as such, at least not in any jurisdiction I’ve looked into.  Vigilantes certainly often commit crimes, to be sure, but it’s possible for a superhero to stay on the right side of the law (e.g. proper use of self-defense, no trespassing to find evidence).

10 responses to “Citizenship and Jurisdiction in Ame-Comi Girls

  1. Terry Washington

    The question of what rights if any foreign based superheroes(never mind US based ones) have whilst operating on US soil is debatable. I am currently writing a novel in which two members of the Winter Guard( marvel’s Russian supehero equivalent of the Avengers) not only team up with Captain America but are sued in federal court after they inadvertently injure a New York woman
    (an overzealous NYPD patrol fires at them and the bullet injures her).

  2. Perhaps you mean Steve Trevor, not Steve Rogers?

  3. I understand that sovereigns must act with sovereignty, but the way that government officials act towards ultra-powerful beings in comics really chafes me sometimes. On that tangent note, the very good webcomic Strong Female Protagonist is presently featuring a discussion by its, well, protagonist, the metahuman formerly known as Mega Girl, on her ultimate responsibility to law and susceptibility to its power. (Mixed with a World of Cardboard speech.) Mega Girl is the most powerful metahuman in her ‘verse, and thus far she’s proved invincible, and nigh-invulnerable.*

    She speculates that she could go to a session of the US Congress and basically say, “Pass universal healthcare, or I’ll destroy this building and kill you all.” And there is nothing anybody could do about it. Mega Girl is an American citizen, and the US has jurisdiction over her… but what does it mean to have jurisdiction when you cannot enforce your writ? If the Congress passes a law under threat of death, is that law good law? She has little or no desire for personal power, but what if she pulled a Comstock and had herself declared Everything Czar?

    *In a nice twist, at one point she is lightly injured in a duel with another metahuman and a human doctor says, “You’re just going to have to deal with the scar: I have no way to close the wound.” She should have used surgical adhesive, but never mind that.

  4. how would you even enforce US law on superheroes, anyway? I mean, if you imprison them, they are only going to stay in prison as long as they actually want to- while if you go to the level of the death penalty, good luck. ( the only way to kill a Kryptonian is Kryptonite, which cannot be used for excecution because it would both take too long and hurt too much. As for Wonder Woman/Girl, she’s usually immortal. The Bat family? Too young if they are still minors. ( it was ruled by the Supreme Court that excecuting minors was unconstitutional) As for Batman himself? he never kills, so good luck getting the death penalty to stick.)

    • Wonder Woman may not age but she’s certainly vulnerable to injury. Kryptonians pre-Crisis would become vulnerable under red sun radiation; post-Crisis, if they don’t get enough solar energy.
      It is a challenge, but it’s not insoluble. People, good or bad, have locked up Superman, J’Onn, and the Legion. Though depending on circumstances it may come down to whether they’re willing to submit.

  5. “how would you even enforce US law on superheroes, anyway? I mean, if you imprison them, they are only going to stay in prison as long as they actually want to”
    Same as they do for supervillains, which, technically, a lawbreaking superhero IS.
    Or you go all Prison 23/Phantom Zone.

  6. Another point to reference is that any solution (such as foreign citizenship) that works for the heroes is likely to work for the villains. The only difference is in enforcement. If Power Girl is committing assault to capture bad guys, the State department may decide not to bother the Kryptonian ambassdor about it.

  7. chornedsnorkack

    Being foreign “citizens” would not take superheroes out of US jurisdiction. Being foreign “armed forces” would.

    USA demands various Visiting Forces Agreements to give US soldiers immunity in the courts of Afghanistan, Iraq et cetera. How should this work in the other direction?

    Say that a Canadian officer sitting on US soil under Cheyenne Mountain is flying a Canadian flagged drone over the streets of Denver and shooting rockets on US citizens suspected of plotting terrorist acts against Canada – or not even in Canada but actually merely against Canadian citizens on US soil. The rocket duly kills the suspected, but never arrested or charged, US “terrorist”, along with some collateral damage… like the family in a car hit by the remains of “terrorist” car´s remains when they run out of their highway lane.

    Do anyone – like the family members of suspected “terrorist” asserting his innocence, or the surviving family members of the admitted collateral damage, have standing to sue anyone in any US court, civil or criminal?

  8. Terry Washington

    Hmm- the question of whether superheroes have the status of being members of the military is questionable. Captain America(as Steve Rogers) gained his powers as a result of the super soldier programme back in the 1940s(when he was plain of old US Army Private Steve Rogers) as did Wolverine( as “Weapon X”), but others such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, Daredevil and the rest of the X-Men(new as well as old) seem to have no such connexions(although ironically enough Ben Grimm appears to be a veteran of the US Air Force). In other countries superhero groups such as Alpha Flight(Canada) and the Winter Guard (Russia) appear to have ties to the respective military without being formally serving officers(in my novel, when Airstrike and Seraph are sued in federal court for inadvertently causing the injury of Anna Kapplebaum, their defence attorney Matt Murdock points out that they have been deputized as law enforcement officers of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation). One reason for the “Civil War” storyline back in 2007 is that the legal status of superheroes has never been formally clarified- at least in law!

    Terry

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