ACLU Urges State Lawmakers To Reject Discriminatory Bills That Subvert 14th Amendment

January 5, 2011

States Should Not Deny Standard Birth Certificates To Some Americans, Says Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org
 
WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on state lawmakers to reject proposed legislation intended to deny Americans the fundamental protections of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU made the call after a group of state legislators announced they will introduce bills in their state legislatures that would do just that by requiring states to deny standard birth certificates to many U.S. citizen babies born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. The proposed legislation would also require all people in the U.S., whether citizens or not, to prove their status before they can receive a standard birth certificate for their baby. Currently, there is no such requirement. The proposed legislation directly contradicts the long-standing 14th Amendment guarantee that all people born in the U.S. and under its jurisdiction are citizens of the U.S. and the state in which they reside and subject to equal protection under the law.
 
If enacted, the bills are unlikely to survive legal scrutiny since the Constitution can only be changed by amendment, not by state or federal statute. 
 
"Who can be a citizen of the United States and enjoy the equal protection of the law should never be subject to the political and discriminatory whims of the day," said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Project. "The 14th Amendment's birthright guarantee was born in response to the slavery and pervasive discrimination of the 19th century in order to remove race from considerations of citizenship. The fact that legislators are still trying to undermine the citizenship of some Americans shows that the 14th Amendment is clearly as relevant and vital today as it was a hundred years ago."
 
Adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment negated one of the Supreme Court's most infamous rulings, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that neither freed slaves nor their descendants could ever become citizens. The Amendment, which conferred the rights of citizenship on all who were born in this country, including freed slaves, was enacted in response to laws passed by the former Confederate states that prevented African Americans from entering professions, owning or leasing land, accessing public accommodations, serving on juries and voting.
 
"It would be hard to concoct a proposal that is more misguided and contrary to the sacrosanct guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Equality under the law for every person born in the United States is one of the Constitution's central engines of equality and fundamental to our society. The ACLU will challenge any law that erodes the constitutional guarantee of citizenship. These laws cannot survive constitutional scrutiny," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "In America, our rights do not depend on our parents' status or ancestry."
 
In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the guarantee of the 14th Amendment and affirmed the fundamental principle that children born on American soil are U.S. citizens without regard to their parents' status. In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Court held that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese parents who were subjects of China and were prohibited by law from becoming U.S. citizens was a citizen at birth under the 14th Amendment. This principle has been the settled law of the land for more than a century.

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