ThinkProgress filed this report from the Republican presidential debate in Manchester, New Hampshire
Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain has had his struggles with the Constitution lately, confusing it and the Declaration of Independence, misunderstanding a clause about bankruptcy, and failing to grasp the unconstitutionality of religious tests in determining someone’s fitness for employment.
At last night’s GOP primary debate in New Hampshire, Cain stretched his misunderstanding of the Constitution into a new subject: birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment. During the debate, Cain said the law needed to be changed so children of undocumented immigrants were not granted citizenship upon birth. He elaborated on his position after the debate:
CAIN: The 14th Amendment doesn’t talk about people that were here illegally. The 14th Amendment applies to slaves, black people, and their descendants who were here.
REPORTER: So you’re suggesting that the 14th Amendment does not say that people who are born in this country are naturalized citizens?
CAIN: …It does say people who are born here. But when it was written, it was written in the spirit of the slaves who were brought to this country. It was not written in the spirit of people who came here illegally. That’s where I’m coming from.
While the 14th Amendment was ratified following the Civil War and granted citizenship to blacks and former slaves who had previously not been considered citizens, its language in no way limits its protections to former slaves: “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.”
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has ruled that the amendment’s protections extend to anyone under the jurisdiction of the United States, even undocumented immigrants:
…the Fourteenth Amendment extends to anyone, citizen or stranger, who is subject to the laws of a State, and reaches into every corner of a State’s territory. That a person’s initial entry into a State, or into the United States, was unlawful, and that he may for that reason be expelled, cannot negate the simple fact of his presence within the State’s territorial perimeter. (Plyler v. Doe)
Cain said he did not believe in changing the 14th Amendment but wanted to change the law or add an amendment to clarify it, and he pleaded ignorance when asked if he’d support legislation proposed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and David Vitter (R-LA) that would significantly narrow the amendment’s scope. But recent polling shows his view is out of touch with primary voters in New Hampshire, where 65 percent of Republicans prefer not to change America’s birthright citizenship laws.