« In The Bleak Midwinter | Main | Aw, Prairie Shit! »

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Our Native Originalism Is The Best

True to form, the House GOP kicks off the 113th Congress with lots of laughable bills, including one sponsored by Steve King that is clearly an unconstitutional redefinition of birthright citizenship.  It's clearly based on the same kind of tortured "logic" and "reading" of "history" and "precedent" as are the usual attacks on Obama's eligibility for the office he just officially was re-elected to.

Besides the plain English of the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause, there's also the fascinating Senate debate of May 30, 1866, and clear decisions in Elk v Wilkins and US v Wong Kim Ark.  I won't do my usual TLDR excerpting, but read all that without cherrypicking and you cannot come away with any honest interpretation other than the obvious: born here, you're a US citizen.  Period.  Full stop.  The.  End.

I did want to highlight just one section of the Senate debate delivered by John Conness, an Irishman representing California:

The proposition before us, I will say, Mr. President, relates simply in that respect to the children begotten of Chinese parents in California, and it is proposed to declare that they shall be citizens. We have declared that by law; now it is proposed to incorporate the same provision in the fundamental instrument of the nation. I am in favor of doing so. I voted for the proposition to declare that the children of all parentage whatever, born in California, should be regarded and treated as citizens of the United States, entitled to equal civil rights with other citizens of the United States.

Now, then, I beg the honorable Senator from Pennsylvania, though it may be very good capital in an electioneering campaign to declaim against the Chinese, not to give himself any trouble about the Chinese, but to confine himself entirely to the injurious effects of this provision upon the encouragement of a Gypsy invasion of Pennsylvania. I had never heard myself of the invasion of Pennsylvania by Gypsies. I do not know, and I do not know that the honorable Senator can tell us, how many Gypsies the census shows to be within the State of Pennsylvania. The only invasion of Pennsylvania within my recollection was an invasion very much worse and more disastrous to the State, and more to be feared and more feared, than that of Gypsies. It was an invasion of rebels, which this amendment, if Iunderstand it aright, is intended to guard against and to prevent the recurrence of.
But why all this talk about Gypsies and Chinese? I have lived in the United States for now many a year, and really I have heard more about Gypsies within the last two or three months than I have heard before in my life. It cannot be because they have increased so much of late. It cannot be because they have been felt to be particularly oppressive in this or that locality. It must be that the Gypsy element is to be added to our political agitation, so that hereafter the Negro alone shall not claim our entire attention.

Here is a simple declaration that a score or a few score of human beings born in the United States shall be regarded as citizens of the United States, entitled to civil rights, to the right of equal defense, to the right of equal punishment for crime with other citizens; and that such a provision should be deprecated by any person having or claiming to have a high humanity passes all my understanding and comprehension.

Which nicely leads to legal scholar Garrett Epps:

It is...ahistorical to suggest that the Framers did not foresee the legal and social characteristics of what we today call "illegal" or "undocumented" immigrants. They did; and they rather categorically stated that these characteristics—ineligibility for citizenship, unacceptability as members of the body politic, isolation from American culture and systematic evasion of American law—would not constitute exceptions to the Amendment‘s grant of birthright citizenship.
Each generation imagines that its problems are different from those of all who have come before. We have no idea what America will look like in 2110; but we do know that the United States of 1866 survived to become the United States of 2010. It seems, then, that the changes they faced were less wrenching than those we face. They were guaranteed a happy ending; it is right there in the history textbook.

But that is a cast of mind, not a historical conclusion. America in 1866 was a nation as profoundly transformed by immigration as it is in 2010. Issues of language, culture, religion, social mores and other aspects of the American identity were as salient then as they were now. We would be making a profound historical error to imagine that the generation that framed the Clause was unaware that migration was a transformative and often destabilizing force in American society.
Further, the ongoing debate about assimilation of new immigrant populations—along with persistent fears that whichever group is entering the U.S. most recently brings with it new and insoluble differences of language, culture and loyalty—is quite literally as old as the Republic. The very first "national security" crisis in the American Republic—the "Quasi War" with France—sparked a panic that French immigrants were subversive, disloyal, and unassimilable. Similar strains of nativism resounded through the national debate from that moment until the end of the Civil War.

Well, no duh.


January 5, 2013 in Constitution, Schmonstitution, Suffering Fools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Our Native Originalism Is The Best:


Post a comment