Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Semblances of Sovereignty

Semblances of Sovereignty

The Constitution, the State, and American Citizenship

T. Alexander Aleinikoff

ISBN 9780674007451

Publication date: 05/30/2002

In a set of cases decided at the end of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court declared that Congress had "plenary power" to regulate immigration, Indian tribes, and newly acquired territories. Not coincidentally, the groups subject to Congress' plenary power were primarily nonwhite and generally perceived as "uncivilized." The Court left Congress free to craft policies of assimilation, exclusion, paternalism, and domination.

Despite dramatic shifts in constitutional law in the twentieth century, the plenary power case decisions remain largely the controlling law. The Warren Court, widely recognized for its dedication to individual rights, focused on ensuring "full and equal citizenship"--an agenda that utterly neglected immigrants, tribes, and residents of the territories. The Rehnquist Court has appropriated the Warren Court's rhetoric of citizenship, but has used it to strike down policies that support diversity and the sovereignty of Indian tribes.

Attuned to the demands of a new century, the author argues for abandonment of the plenary power cases, and for more flexible conceptions of sovereignty and citizenship. The federal government ought to negotiate compacts with Indian tribes and the territories that affirm more durable forms of self-government. Citizenship should be "decentered," understood as a commitment to an intergenerational national project, not a basis for denying rights to immigrants.

Praise

  • Aleinikoff examines sovereignty, citizenship, and the broader concept of membership (aliens as well as citizens) in the American nation-state and suggests that American constitutional law needs ‘understandings of sovereignty and membership that are supple and flexible, open to new arrangements’… Sure to generate heated debate over the extent to which the rules governing immigration, Indian tribes, and American territories should be altered, this book is required reading for constitutional scholars.

    —R. J. Steamer, Choice

Author

  • T. Alexander Aleinikoff is a professor at Georgetown Law Center and Senior Associate at the Migration Policy Institute (Washington, D.C.).

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations