The Constitution guarantees that all persons born in the United States are U.S. citizens with only a handful of very rare exceptions. Nevertheless, in last night’s GOP candidate’s debate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized the Supreme Court for following the Constitution’s unambiguous language and promised to appoint justices who would strip many Americans of their citizenship:
This issue of birthright citizenship, again, brings up the importance of appointing conservative justices. That result is because the U.S. Supreme Court determined that that right exists, notwithstanding language in the Constitution. I’m the only one up here — I believe I’m the only one up here — whose appointed solidly, reliably conservative appointees to the court.
Pawlenty would do well to actually pick up a copy of the Constitution before he pretends to know what it says. Under the 14th Amendment, “[a]ll 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.” This language is unambiguous; it grants citizenship to all persons born in the US unless they are not subject to American “jurisdiction” — a very narrow exception that applies only to children of foreign diplomats and a handful of other people.
Moreover, the first Supreme Court decision recognizing birthright citizenship was hardly the product of excessive liberalism. The Court first acknowledged this right in an 1898 decision called U.S. v Wong Kim Ark. Three of the justices who joined the majority in Wong Kim Ark also voted with the majority in Lochner v. New York, an infamous Supreme Court decision holding that essential laws protecting workers from exploitation violate the Constitution. Five of the justices in the majority in Wong Kim Ark also voted to uphold Jim Crow in Plessy v Ferguson. So when Pawlenty promises to appoint justices who are more conservative than the ones in Wong Kim Ark, he is essentially calling for a Supreme Court that will immunize sweatshops from the law and uphold segregation.
Sadly, Pawlenty was not the only person on the stage to come out against the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. When asked whether he thinks the children of undocumented immigrants “should be considered a citizen of the United States,” former pizza executive Herman Cain replied, “I don’t believe so.”