PUBLISHED:April 29, 2016

Summer Scholarship Grant recipient - Daniel Rice '15

Few recall that when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, women were automatically expatriated—stripped of their American citizenship—when they took foreign husbands. The protagonist of my project, Ruth Bryan Owen, lost her citizenship in just this way. She and several other women won seats in Congress as America transitioned into a new constitutional era. But because her citizenship had been restored only three years earlier, her opponent cleverly argued that she hadn’t “been seven Years a Citizen of the United States” and was therefore ineligible to serve in the House of Representatives.

The grant allowed me to spend an entire summer exploring this hidden treasure of constitutional history. I discovered that Owen’s victory was an important turning point in American women’s effort to achieve equality under the law. Many in Owen’s generation—Democrats and Republicans alike—insisted that the Nineteenth Amendment effectively made women men’s full constitutional equals. Modern sex-discrimination doctrine has never taken account of these widespread understandings or the nonjudicial precedent that fueled them.  

Building off of research by Duke’s own Curtis Bradley and Neil Siegel, I also surprised myself by agreeing with Owen’s challenger on one major point: that the Constitution’s seven-year provision isn’t as crystal-clear as it seems. It can’t simply refer to any seven years of one’s life, or else aliens could serve in Congress and write Americans’ laws for them. The more sensible view is that the clause requires seven immediately preceding years of U.S. citizenship. But this position is also difficult to swallow; it seems to insert into the Constitution language that was never ratified.

I would strongly encourage Duke students interested in academic careers to apply for a grant, especially for the summer before their 2L years. My own project required an extended immersion into archival sources and newspaper commentary from the 1920s and 30s. This wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous flexibility that the grant provided me—a summer-long sabbatical from real life.

- Daniel Rice '15