Ayelet Shachar


On her book The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality

Cover Interview of August 27, 2009

A close-up

By treating the automatic and perpetual transmission of citizenship by birth as a weak moral link, resembling the property regimes of old that are now deeply discredited and banned, The Birthright Lottery invites legal innovation.  This finds expression in the book’s elaboration of an entirely new category of citizenship transfer—jus nexi–citizenship by connection to the country.

Jus nexi would ease the injustice facing individuals who have resided in certain countries for extended periods of time, but do not have a traditional claim to citizenship.  Unlike the effects of current legal principles, a genuine connection principle establishes a tie between citizenship and the social fact of membership rather than blind reliance upon the accident of birth.  It is a revolutionary new concept that I hope will encourage spirited debate among academics and policy-makers throughout the world.

As a conceptual and legal category, jus nexi bears significant importance for today’s charged debates over immigration in the United States: it establishes that the social fact of membership offers a valid foundation for access to political membership.  This new framework highlights the significance of developing ties and identification with the country over time as the basis for bestowing citizenship and its benefits on long-term residents.

I call this genuine connection principle jus nexi because, like jus soli and jus sanguinis, it conveys the core meaning of the method through which political membership is conveyed: by connection, union, linkage.  This offers a powerful precedent for turning newcomers into citizens.

In essence, jus nexi relies on property-generated and common-law doctrines emphasizing “rootedness” as the basis of title for those whose lives have become intertwined with the social and economic life of the polity in which they reside.  Building further on the analogy to property, I consider the relevance of the generational timeline, as well as the relationship between right and duty, in sketching the main implications of the jus nexi membership criterion for the most significant test-case categories of potential recipients.  This is particularly instructive when presented with one of the most difficult dilemmas for liberal democracies: how to deal with noncitizen residents whose initial entry breached the law of the admitting states.