Commentary Magazine


Re-Reading the Constitution

Alana, I may be in the minority here, but I think the reading of the superseded sections of the Constitution would have been useful. We fought a Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, to secure full rights and equal protection for all persons. Our struggle for equal rights is worth recalling — and a full reading would have made clearer the progress we have made. It seems especially important now that some Republicans have decided to ignore the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Just yesterday, a group of GOP state legislators gathered in Washington to discuss introducing bills in their legislatures that would grant state citizenship only to children born in the United States who had at least one parent who was a citizen or permanent resident alien. But if the GOP lawmakers had been present for the reading of the 14th Amendment, they’d know that

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. …

The language “subject to the jurisdiction of” exempts the children of diplomats (and, at the time of passage of the Amendment, Native Americans, who were considered citizens of sovereign nations within U.S. territory and weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924) — and no one else. And there certainly should be no question of whether individual states have the right to usurp the Constitution when it comes to establishing qualifications for U.S. citizenship. Selective reading of the Constitution, alas, sometimes clouds the views of conservatives as well as liberals.