Franken: So sorry for that terrible law 100 years ago

(Photo by Cory Ryan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cory Ryan/Getty Images)

What’s the statute of limitations on saying sorry?

When Billy Crystal asked in When Harry Met Sally it was 10 years, but Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is hoping his fellow Saturday Night Live alum was off by a few decades.

Because the funnyman turned serious senator has some apologizing he’d like to do on behalf of his Senate predecessors.

In the early part of the last century, during the rush of European immigration to the United States, Congress stripped citizenship from any American woman who married a foreigner. The little-known Expatriation Act of 1907 stayed on the books until 1940, so even after women won the right to vote in 1920, those who were married to a non-American could not exercise that newfound right.

Franken would like the Senate to offer, through legislation, its sympathy and regret for passing a law “incompatible with and antithetical to the core principle that all persons, regardless of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity, are created equal.”

Franken’s office first learned of this blemish in U.S. history from a constituent who was seeking posthumous citizenship for his grandmother. She lost hers when she married a Swedish man in 1914. Franken’s office couldn’t accomplish that, so is seeking an official apology as the next best commendation.

The Senate doesn’t make a habit of seeking absolution, but this would not be the first time it’s formally recognized mistakes from America’s past.

  • In 2011, the Senate expressed regret for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which discriminated against Chinese immigrants
  • In 2009, the Senate apologized for slavery and racial segregation of African-Americans.
  • Also in 2009, the Senate apologized to Native Americans for “violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”
  • In 2005, the Senate apologized for lynchings and for not having outlawed them.

Makes you wonder what we’ll be apologizing for 100 years from now?

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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Colby Itkowitz | April 2