Tea Party

  • January 5, 2011
    Guest Post

    Editor's Note: Elizabeth Wydra authored an ACS Issue Brief on the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship clause and the efforts by some Tea Party groups and others to undermine the clause, which provides citizenship to babies born on American soil. Wydra is updating the Issue Brief, which will be released later this year. In light of the ongoing movement to curtail the citizenship clause, we are re-posting Wydra's blog post regarding her Issue Brief, "Birthright Citizenship: A Constitutional Guarantee."

    By Elizabeth Wydra, Chief Counsel, Constitutional Accountability Center
    The opening sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment is both sweeping and clear: "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." As discussed in my recent ACS Issue Brief, the words and history of this constitutional text establish that it provides automatic citizenship-"birthright citizenship"-to anyone born in this country regardless of race, color or status of one's parents or ancestors.

    Despite the plain language of the Amendment and its powerful history, opponents of birthright citizenship continue to fight its meaning and purpose. Most of the efforts to narrow the meaning of birthright citizenship have been motivated by a desire to exclude from citizenship children born on U.S. soil to undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, this anti-citizenship political movement shows no signs of slowing: in Congress, bills have been introduced each year for more than a decade to end automatic citizenship for persons born on U.S. soil to parents who are in the country illegally; in California, signatures are being gathered for a ballot proposition that would create a sub-class of U.S.-born citizens by issuing different birth certificates to children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents; and, in the 2008 presidential campaign, several Republican candidates expressed skepticism that the Constitution even guarantees birthright citizenship.

    The anti-citizenship arguments are debunked in detail in my Issue Brief. But the fatal flaws in these arguments are not the most compelling reasons for rejecting them in favor of the broad and clear definition of citizenship intended by our Reconstruction Framers. Rather, the text, history and principles behind the Citizenship Clause demonstrate that the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment created an elegantly simple and intentionally fixed rule of birthright citizenship that was intended to serve as a long-overdue fulfillment of the promise of inalienable freedom and liberty in the Declaration of Independence. Providing for birthright citizenship regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude righted the horrible wrong of Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which the Supreme Court held that persons of African descent born in the United States could not be citizens under the Constitution, and ensured that all native-born children, whether members of an unpopular minority or descendants of privileged ancestors, would have the inalienable right to citizenship and all its privileges and immunities.

  • November 18, 2010
    A few incoming Republican senators have urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to freeze any action on treaties, such as the arms treaty with Russia, during the lame duck session.

    At The Washington Note, Steve Clemons writes that these senators-elect, some of whom campaigned on the claim that lawmakers in Washington are running roughshod over the Constitution, should read the 20th Amendment. "According to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution," Clemons writes, "the respective terms of US Senators and US Representatives ends at noon on January 3rd."

    But in their letter to Reid, senators-elect Roy Blunt, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio conclude, "On Election Day we were elected to represent the constituents of our respective states in the Senate. Out of respect for our states' voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011."

    Clemons blasts the politicians, who will not hold office until Jan. 3 for their efforts, saying they are "extralegal, irresponsible, and unconstitutional."

    "Rand Paul," Clemons states, "you owe many of your supporters a note of regret for having agreed to sign on to this letter giving your strict Constitutionalist views."

    As has been noted by some groups, such as the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), some Tea-Party-backed candidates, such as Paul, have, however, shown a tendency to decide what parts of the Constitution are worthy of fidelity and those that are not so worthy. For example, some Tea Party groups and candidates have revealed that they have little use for the 17th Amendment, which allows people, not state legislatures, to elect senators, and the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment.

  • October 27, 2010
    Tea Party groups throughout the country are ramping up efforts to combat so-called voter fraud. As The New York Times reports, in 2006 "conservative activists repeatedly" claimed fraudulent voting was widespread and prevalent. The Times notes, however, that those "accusations turned out to be largely false ...."

    For example, the newspaper reports that in Texas, the Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots is targeting a voter registration group, Houston Votes, as submitting erroneous voter applications. In Milwaukee, Tea Party organizers are threatening to create volunteer groups "to photograph and videotape what" they suspect are cases of voting irregularities.

    Voting rights groups, however, are arguing that private efforts to quell so-called voter fraud are nothing more than intimidation tactics to suppress the vote. The Brennan Center's Wendy R. Weiser told the newspaper, "Private efforts to police the polls create a real risk of vote suppression, regardless of their intent. People need to know that any form of discrimination, intimidation or challenge to voters without adequate basis is illegal or improper."

    TPM reports that the Department of Justice will investigate both voter fraud and intimidation accusations. It notes, "DOJ lawyers have already gathered information on allegations of voter intimidation in Harris County, Texas, where a Tea Party group launched an aggressive poll watching effort."

  • September 17, 2010

    In honor of Constitution Day, Constitutional Accountability Center Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra spoke with ACSblog about what the Constitution really means, and where the Tea Party has gotten it wrong. Wydra is the author of an Issue Brief on the subject, Setting the Record Straight: The Tea Party and the Constitutional Powers of the Federal Government, and wrote a related guest post for ACSblog. The Constitutional Accountability Center has also published a series of blog posts on the Tea Party's reading of the Constitution.

  • August 18, 2010
    The rising rhetoric and increasing rallies aimed at disparaging Islam represent "a new threat to the religious freedom of Muslims in America," writes the First Amendment Center's Charles C. Haynes.

    Haynes, the director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project, notes that "anti-Muslim rhetoric has taken an ominous turn in recent months as a growing number of political and community leaders - some with tea-party affiliations - have begun warning of a ‘Muslim takeover' of America."

    Haynes cites numerous anti-Muslim rallies from Tennessee to California, including the loud opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in New York City.

    Haynes writes:

    In recent months, tea-party groups in New York have also helped organize opposition to mosques in Manhattan (the controversial plan to build an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero), Brooklyn and Staten Island. Tea-party meetings in Tennessee, Texas and California feature speakers warning of the ‘Islamization of America.'

    In an ironic twist reminiscent of the anti-Catholic rallies of the 19th century (warning against ‘Romanism' seeking ‘despotic control' of America), anti-mosque protests in Murfreesboro, Temecula and elsewhere feature groups of citizens invoking their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly to call for denying another group of citizens First Amendment protection.


    If the anti-mosque protests are any indication, Islamophobia - the fear and loathing of Islam as a ‘violent political ideology' - is a growing threat to religious freedom in the United States. And in many communities, some tea-party activists are actively encouraging and supporting this dangerous trend.