ACLU Calls on the Senate to Reject Radical Proposal to Subvert Long-Established Constitutional Guarantees of Citizenship at Birth

The ACLU this morning called on the U.S. Senate to reject a radical amendment that would subvert long-established constitutional guarantees of citizenship at birth.

Senator Vitter (R-LA) has introduced an amendment (274) to rewrite the 14th amendment by restricting birth citizenship to only three categories of people: children of U.S. citizens or nationals, children of permanent residents, and children of non-citizens in active-duty military service.

Vitter Amendment 274 aims to gut the constitutional guarantee of citizenship enshrined in the 14th amendment, and to overturn long-established Supreme Court precedent.

The 14th Amendment was intended to heal a great wound inflicted on our country after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott, denying citizenship to African Americans and their descendants. Ratified in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment conferred the rights of citizenship on all who were born in the U.S., including freed slaves. The Amendment was ratified in response to laws passed by the former Confederate states that prevented African Americans from voting, entering professions, owning or leasing land, accessing public accommodations, and serving on juries.

“The ACLU strongly opposes this attempt to subvert the 14th amendment’s guarantees of birth citizenship and urges the Senate to reject Vitter Amendment 274 outright,” the organization wrote in an action alert.

The American Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment states: “All 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.” U.S. Const., amend. XIV, § 1.

One of the Constitution’s most essential engines to ensure equality and fairness under the law has been the guarantee of citizenship to those born on U.S. soil, regardless of who their parents are. The right of citizenship at birth has long been the law of the land since 1868, and for good reason.

Since the adoption of the Citizenship Clause, federal courts have repeatedly confirmed that it means exactly what it says – children born on U.S. soil are citizens without regard to their parents’ status.[5] This principle has remained settled law of the land for more than a century.

Senator Vitter now seeks to upend more than a century of established law and precedent. Vitter Amendment 274 would create the sort of permanent underclass that the 14th Amendment was written to eviscerate.

The 14th amendment is sacrosanct and too important to be defined by the political and discriminatory whims of Senator Vitter or of any Member of Congress. The ACLU calls on the Senate to protect the long-established constitutional guarantees of citizenship at birth and to soundly reject Vitter Amendment 274.

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