Alabama senator asserts ignorance of the purpose of the 14th Amendment

Posted on 05 Aug 2010 at 2:44pm

Is this really surprising? From the Seattle Times:

WASHINGTON – Leading Republicans are joining a push to reconsider the constitutional amendment that grants automatic citizenship to people born in the United States.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday he supports holding hearings on the 14th Amendment right, although he emphasized that Washington’s immigration focus should remain on border security.

His comments came after other Republicans recently questioned or challenged birthright citizenship, embracing a cause that had largely been confined to the far right.

Senator Jeff Sessions

The senators include Arizona’s John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee; Arizona’s Jon Kyl, the GOP whip; Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading negotiator on immigration legislation.

I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the (14th) amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen,” Sessions said.

More below the fold.
As I’m sure most Blenders know, the Fourteenth Amendment addresses racial inequities that were endemic to the Confederate states before and during the Civil War. At issue here is Section 1, which reads:

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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Dred Scott

This is very easy to understand: all persons born in the United States are citizens, all citizens are entitled to all the rights and protections of the Constitution, and no person — citizen or not — within a jurisdiction of US law shall be denied equal protection under the law.

This text was a direct response to the 1858 Supreme Court ruling, Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Dred Scott ruling held that Africans who had been imported into the United States as slaves, and their descendants, were not citizens and therefore had no right to protection under the law and no standing to sue for their rights in any court. Further, it held that slaves were chattel, and that laws designed to free slaves amounted to illegal seizure of property and therefore unconstitutional. This is what the “honored gentleman” from Alabama has publicly expressed ignorance about. Not surprising, given Sessions well documented racist past.

The repeal of birthright citizenship would open the doors for a return to racial or bloodline based citizenship. More, it creates the possibility — the likelihood? — that other restrictions on citizenship could be imposed. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” But might it be constitutional for Congress to say that only adherents of a particular religion had the rights of citizenship, as long as religion was neither imposed or restricted?

Do we really want to go there?
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