*This post originally appeared on the Constitutional Accountability Center's Text & History Blog.
The arguments against the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship put forth by Donald Trump and other conservatives are, to borrow a descriptor oft-used by Trump himself, losers. Literally. Far from offering a bold new immigration reform plan that would "make America great again," Trump's plan recycles anti-immigrant ideas that were resoundingly defeated 150 years ago. In the process, he foolishly rejects values that are part of what makes America great in the first place.
Since its ratification in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment has guaranteed that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Just a decade before this language was added to our Constitution, the Supreme Court held in Dred Scott v. Sandford that persons of African descent could not be citizens under the Constitution. Our nation fought a civil war at least in part to repudiate the terrible error of Dred Scott and to secure, in the Constitution, citizenship for all persons born on U.S. soil, regardless of race, color, or parental origin.
When members of the Reconstruction Congress assembled to draft the birthright citizenship clause, they were writing against a backdrop of prejudice not only against African Americans, but also various immigrant communities, such as the Chinese in the West and Roma communities in the East. Much of the hostility against these 19th-century immigrants was similar to the resentment and distrust leveled at immigrants today: concern that immigrants would take away good jobs from U.S. citizens (while exhibiting a willingness to allow immigrants to take jobs perceived as undesirable); fear of waves of immigrants "invading" or overtaking existing American communities; and distrust of different cultures and languages.
For example, early in the 1866 debates, an opponent of birthright citizenship--Senator Edgar Cowan, often cited by modern opponents of birthright citizenship--objected to the citizenship provision by asking whether "it will not have the effect of naturalizing the children of the Chinese and Gypsies born in this country." Senator Lyman Trumbull, a key proponent of the citizenship clause, replied that it would, "undoubtedly," and made clear in the face of Cowan's xenophobic remarks that the child of such immigrants "is just as much a citizen as the child of a European."
Who has a right to be an American citizen? Most agree the 14th Amendment's "birthright citizenship" clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, settles one aspect of the matter. If you’re born on US soil, you’re a citizen, with minor exceptions.
In 2011, a group of state legislators concerned about the flow of unauthorized migrants sought to redefine the exceptions. Undocumented parents, they argued, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and therefore their children could not be US citizens “simply by virtue of their GPS location.”
As we transition from Constitution Week to Hispanic Heritage Month, we’d like to invite you to watch an emotionally packed scene that reveals the potency of the Constitution as a living document. It’s also a scene that reverberates with the centuries old question of identity among Latinos in America.
For reasons of storytelling and time, we had to drop the footage from the final cut of our film, The State of Arizona. The scene takes place on the grounds of the Arizona State Legislature and inside its Senate Chamber. Though we filmed in 2011, the arguments haunt us today in the absence of national immigration reform.
by Victor Williams, an attorney in Washington D.C. and clinical assistant professor at Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. Williams founded the American Institute for Disruptive Innovation in Law and Politics -- DistruptiveJustice.org.
Partisans have purposely pushed our nation to the brink of fiscal default three times since 2011. Each time, the Treasury Secretary warned Congress, bondholders, and the public that a “catastrophic” default was imminent. Credit markets shudder, financial houses take multi-million dollar risk precautions, and rating agencies balk. At the twelfth hour, partisans have granted a stay, but only temporary one. The current suspension expires on March 15, 2015 – thus the next battle is strategically scheduled after expected GOP midterm victories. Beware the Ides of March. But how is Brown v. Board relevant to a debt limit disaster?
Facial Violations of the Fourteenth Amendment
In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck-down segregation legislation as facially violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. In May 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the unanimous Court that separate educational facilities were “inherently unequal.” The violation was so patent that “any discussion whether such segregation” was a factual violation of due process was “unnecessary.” As Harvard Law’s Richard Fallon notes in Fact and Fiction About Facial Challenges, Brown is a classic example of the judiciary’s assessing the constitutionality of legislation on its face, “not as-applied.”
Similarly, the debt limit statute facially and inherently contravenes a fundamental provision of the very same Fourteenth Amendment. Section Four guarantees not only that public debt will always remain valid, but also that the “validity” of such obligations will never be “questioned.” A centerpiece of the three Civil War Amendments, the absolutist prohibition against debt questioning joins other post- bellum proscriptions against slavery, unequal protection of the law, due process violations, and racial voting barriers.
Over the past three decades, conservative legal commentators have promoted a narrative about our Constitution that puts our hallowed text at odds with the goals of liberals. The Constitution, this story goes, is a profoundly conservative document whose words and principles tilt favorably towards the policy goals of today’s Republican Party: Small government. Law and order. Hostile to gay rights. Opposed to campaign finance law and affirmative action. Favoring nearly unbridled executive power in matters of war and foreign policy. If only jurists stuck to history – by interpreting the text by way of original intent or, alternatively, original meaning, rather than the living constitutionalism favored by Warren Court liberals – we would see the Constitution in its true light.
There’s just one problem with this story. It’s not true.
The Constitution was designed by the Framers to be a radically progressive document. The founding generation was comprised of revolutionaries, people who sought to make a new system of government that broadened rights rather than limited them. Their handiwork was itself thoroughly reformed by another group of progressives: the radical Republicans who added the Reconstruction Amendments. Over and over again, the Constitution has been revised by people inspired by liberal ideas, from the populists who sought the direct elections of senators to woman rights proponents who fought for the right to vote. Taken as a whole, the Constitution is anything but a conservative document. And while its words and principles don’t favor any political party, many of its core ideas support the policy goals of modern-day liberals.
Take, for instance, the argument that the Constitution favors small government. It is undoubtedly true that the framers wanted to circumscribe the power of government; that’s why we have the separation of powers, federalism, and a Bill of Rights. Yet often ignored is that the Framers crafted the Constitution to expand the powers of government so that Congress could effectively solve national problems. The document the Constitution replaced – the Articles of Confederation – hobbled government too much and the men who met in Philadelphia sought to rectify that error.
New York City’s leaders, most notably its billionaire mayor, are bent on supporting a stop-and-frisk policy that according to the police department’s own numbers overwhelmingly target minorities.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend the policy, which allows police officers to stop-and-frisk people in the city on suspicion of criminal activity.
Recently Bloomberg took to a church in Brooklyn to trumpet the policy, saying, “We are not going to going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives.” And although he went on to claim city officials would strive to carry out stop-and-frisk “properly,” he has also denigrated Philadelphia’s efforts to reform its frisking policies. “Why would anyone want to trade what we have here for the situation in Philadelphia – more murders, higher crime?” he said in May.
But numbers regarding stops and frisks show that the policy hardly deters crime, let alone saves lives. According to statistics from the New York Police Department more than 680,000 people were stopped in 2011 and in 88 percent of the stops no arrests were made.
The numbers do, however, show that racial profiling is taking place. Of the nearly 686,000 people stopped last year 84 percent of them were black or Latino, The Timesreports. Pace University law professor Randolph M. McLaughlin told the newspaper, “People are starting to wonder: ‘What’s really going on here? Is this a racial policy?”
Noting that courts are increasingly assessing stop-and-frisk tactics, McLaughlin added, “And judges read newspapers too.”
In May, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin permitted a class-action lawsuit against the New York Police Department’s policy, saying she was seriously concerned about officials’ “troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”