Targeting birthright citizenship

TARGETING BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP…. As you’ve probably heard, the 14th Amendment says, in effect, that if you’re born in the United States, you’re a natural-born American citizen. There’s not much in the way of wiggle room in the language, and Supreme Court precedents are clear. Conservatives don’t care for this, of course, because of immigration — if an expecting mother is in the U.S. illegally and has a baby, her child is an American citizen.

In Congress, this means so-called “constitutional conservatives” intend to push a measure that appears to violate the Constitution rather blatantly. At the state level, we’ll see a different kind of push.

…Arizona — whose tough law granting the police the power to detain illegal immigrants is tied up in the courts — may again take the lead in what is essentially an effort to redefine what it means to be an American. This time, though, Arizona lawmakers intend to join with legislators from other states to force the issue before the Supreme Court.

This coalition of lawmakers will unveil its exact plans on Wednesday in Washington, but people involved in drafting the legislation say they have decided against the painstaking process of amending the Constitution. Since the federal government decides who is to be deemed a citizen, the lawmakers are considering instead a move to create two kinds of birth certificates in their states, one for the children of citizens and another for the children of illegal immigrants.

The theory is that this could spark a flurry of lawsuits that might resolve the legal conflict in their favor.

That such efforts are unconstitutional isn’t really in doubt. The point, apparently, is attacking immigrants as some kind of political exercise. A law professor at the University of Arizona told the NYT, “This is political theater, not a serious effort to create a legal test.”

True, but the right tends to excel in unserious efforts to create legal tests, and with so much of the federal judiciary filled with jurists nominated by Republican presidents, a number of conservatives feel like it’s worth investing the time to roll the dice.

I’m tempted to argue that this is going to get ugly, but given recent events in Arizona and the rhetoric coming from congressional Republicans, the truth is, it’s already ugly. It’s now going to get worse.