There is a law in Germany that allows descendants of Germans whose citizenship was revoked under the Nazi regime to apply for German “renaturalisation” for themselves and their children.

My family knows about this because my mother-in-law was a German Jewish refugee. She came to the U.S. in 1939 and subsequently became a U.S. citizen. Her immediate family survived Nazi Germany for two reasons: 1) they paid attention to the erosion of democratic principles and the rise of authoritarianism; and 2) they made an escape plan and were lucky enough to have a relative in the United States who agreed to sign the requisite affidavit.

No one wants to believe that their free democratic country could become an authoritarian state.

Fascism in Germany didn’t start with the Holocaust. In 1935, two years into the Nazi regime, the racist Nuremberg Laws were enacted and a family relative of ours was jailed for dating outside of his race.

There were early signs of where Germany was headed, including an extremist party platform that embraced white nationalism – “Only those of German blood … may be members of the nation” – and a call for banning immigration.

In 1933, the newly elected Nazi Party used a national attack, the Reichstag Fire, to suspend the freedoms and civil liberty protections of the Weimar Constitution. “The Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State” upended freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, allowing censorship efforts, expanded government surveillance, and the detention of citizens without due process.

My mother-in-law did not fully support her children becoming German citizens until the aftermath of Sep. 11, 2001.

After the terrorist attacks, Congress passed – and President George W. Bush signed – the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act (“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”) which expanded the capacity of the U.S. government to conduct warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens; the PATRIOT Act was renewed under President Barack Obama; and fortunately, it expired in 2020.

But the damage was done.

We, the people of the United States, would allow warrantless surveillance. What else would we accept?

Forced family separation at the U.S. border to deter refugees?  Banning immigrants from Muslim-majority countries? A state law offering a $10,000 incentive for reporting anyone “aiding and abetting” someone seeking an abortion after six weeks? A state-sponsored tip line for reporting teachers who teach “inherently divisive concepts”? State-sponsored child abuse investigations of families providing access to gender-affirming care for their transgender children?

And will we be able to expect the peaceful transfer of presidential power?

It is against this backdrop that the constitutional right to personal privacy has been officially challenged with the repeal of Roe v. Wade. The right to access abortion, as well as the rights to contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex and interracial marriage are based on a judicial interpretation of the 14th Amendment that “due process” includes “unenumerated” rights, i.e., rights not explicitly named, like the right to personal privacy.

The constitutional right to privacy, or “substantive due process,” was called into question by the Dobbs v. Jackson decision and Justice Clarence Thomas specifically named three other privacy-based legal precedents that he thinks the Supreme Court should also reconsider: Griswold (birth control), Lawrence (intimate contact between same-sex partners), and Obergefell (marriage equality).

Even if you do not support access to abortion, or equal rights for LGBTQ people, how do you feel about personal privacy as a constitutional right and a foundational principle of a free society?

I think it’s a really scary sign about where we may be headed as a country that a supermajority of the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t endorse personal privacy as a fundamental constitutional right.

— Special to the Press Herald

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