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2014/06/24

Intent of 14th Amendment

To my 2000 article Intent of the Fourteenth Amendment was to Protect All Rights I make the following clarifying points:

1. The 14th Amendment did not confer U.S. citizenship on individuals born on U.S. soil, whose parents were not subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign power. That was already the established rule, inherited from English law, and U.S. citizenship arguably began on non-state territory with adoption of the Articles of Confederation (ratified 1781) and the adoption of the Northwest and Southwest Ordinances (1787), which transferred sovereignty of the western territories, previously subject to conflicting claims by the states, to the emerging United States (a term that originated during the earlier (1774) Articles of Association under which the War of Independence was fought.

2. Adoption of the U.S. Constitution made all persons born on the soil of any of the states U.S. citizens as well as those born on any of the non-state territories, and conferred on Congress the power to make rules for naturalization.

3. The U.S. Constitution put restrictions of the states in Art. I Sec. 10, and since all restrictions on government powers are rights, or more precisely, immunities, it thereby established rights of U.S. persons (not just citizens) in the states against their states, justiciable in U.S. courts.

4. The language of the Bill of Rights (1791), except that of the First Amendment, seemed to apply equally to the U.S. and state governments, and like Art. I Sec. 10, to make an exception to the omission from Art. III of federal court jurisdiction over cases between a citizen and his state, but it attached rights to persons, not just citizens. (The Framers, in writing Art. III, presumed a person who was a resident of a state would also be a citizen of that state, and did not anticipate states would later assert a different position.)

5. However, the states defined state citizenship as well, and in ways that did not include the same individuals as were included in U.S. citizenship, such as blacks.

6. Some of the southern, slaveholding, states belatedly realized that if the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause applied to them, and federal courts had jurisdiction, slaves could sue in federal courts for their freedom, as deprivation of liberty without due process of law.

7. This led to two main cases. Barron v. Baltimore (1833) and Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). In Barron, slavery was not the issue. The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment was the issue. But it was realized, when it got to the Supreme Court, that if the Court decided in favor of Barron, it would establish a precedent that would allow slavery to be challenged, so it decided against him, and CJ Marshall (wrongly) held the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to decide cases over the Bill of Rights between a citizen and his state.

8. In Dred Scott slavery was the issue. The problem was that the federal courts could not avoid jurisdiction because persons of different states were the opposing parties. The Bill of Rights, and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution, associate rights with personhood, not citizenship, and it was already established precedent that blacks were persons, so CJ Taney for the U.S. Supreme Court weaseled out of the trap by (wrongly) holding that blacks were not and could not be citizens, and thus, federal courts would not have jurisdiction, since Art. III uses the term "citizen" instead of "person" in defining jurisdiction. The effect was to make the rights of persons not citizens non-justiciable in federal courts, contrary to the obvious intent of the Bill of Rights.

9. By the time the view developed that both precedents had to be overturned, and that it would take an amendment to do that, many more precedents had been built on those two cases. So it was not enough for an amendment to just refer to the two cases and explicitly overturn them. It had to adopt general language that would cover the entire system of precedents based on them, past and future.

10. That left the problem that the states could not be allowed to deny rights to persons on their territories by defining them as noncitizens. That could make the U.S. Constitution a nullity in such states, by doing something outlandish like defining Jim Bob and Red Neck as the only citizens. So what the 14th Amendment did do was make all U.S. citizens state citizens if they reside in the state (although it neglected to define residency). That included blacks. However, it also neglected to make clear that most rights belong to persons and not just citizens.

11. Some would argue that the language they chose was not very clear, and that a better wording was needed, but if one tries to find better language, it is not all that easy. (If I had been there, I could have done it, as I have above, but I was born too late.)

12. There is actually no U.S. Supreme Court decision that sustains the offspring born on U.S. soil of parents who have entered U.S. soil illegally to be natural born U.S. citizens. Such parents are arguably not "subject to the jurisdiction" in that they did not seek and obtain consent to enter. All the cases have either been parents who entered legally, or for which the legality of their entry was not before the court. There is a presumption that those born on U.S. soil are natural born citizens, subject to proof to the contrary, and in the absence of someone to argue that position, the presumption stands. If someone wants to get a precedent to that point, one needs to take a case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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