The Debate in the Senate - Sen. Howard's Previous Remarks
The Debate in the Senate – Sen. Wade’s Proposal
The Debate in the Senate - Sen. Howard’s Amendment
The Debate in the Senate - Complete Jurisdiction
The Debate in the Senate - More on Complete Jurisdiction
The Debate in the Senate - Sovereignty Over the Soil
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - British Citizenship
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Justice Story on Allegiance
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - The Claims of the Judicial Branch
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Rejection of Jus Sanguinis
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - The Slaughterhouse Cases
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Subject to the Jurisdiction Thereof
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Opinions of the Executive Branch
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - A Very Broad Conclusion
Supreme Court opinions are often described as being either narrow or broad in their application. An opinion is considered to be narrow if it applies only to the specific case that was brought before the court and other cases just like it. A broad opinion, on the other hand, is an opinion that was written to give guidance to future courts who may have to rule on cases in a similar context. Those who oppose birthright citizenship for the children of aliens often claim that the opinion of the Wong Court was a narrow opinion. They claim that it only applies to the children of permanent residents. The Wong Court itself, on the other hand, presented their opinion as a very broad conclusion which would apply to every child born on American soil.
Before applying their findings to the specific circumstances of the case before them, the Wong Court wrote:
“The foregoing considerations and authorities irresistibly lead us to these conclusions: the Fourteenth Amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens.”
The Court listed four exceptions to this conclusion which are the only classes of children that could be born within the territory of the United States while still remaining outside of their jurisdiction. Those four exceptions were listed as:
After identifying these as the only exceptions to birthright citizenship, the Court reiterated its previous statement with the claim that:
“The Amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born, within the territory of the United States, of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States.”
It is often argued that the children of illegal aliens are not under the jurisdiction of the United States because their parents have never renounced their allegiance to their former country, but as the Wong Court explained:
“Every citizen or subject of another country, while domiciled here, is within the allegiance and the protection, and consequently subject to the jurisdiction, of the United States. His allegiance to the United States is direct and immediate.”
The Court quoted President Fillmore’s Secretary of State, Daniel Webster who explained:
“Independently of a residence with intention to continue such residence; independently of any domiciliation; independently of the taking of any oath of allegiance or of renouncing any former allegiance, it is well known that, by the public law, an alien, or a stranger born, for so long a time as he continues within the dominions of a foreign government, owes obedience to the laws of that government, and may be punished for treason, or other crimes, as a native-born subject might be, unless his case is varied by some treaty stipulations.”
These are very broad statements which were intended to apply to a wide range of situations and not just to the particular case which was before the Court. Other than the listed exceptions, the Court concluded that “all children here born of resident aliens” were citizens. They applied this rule across the board to “all children born … of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States.” And the Court concluded that any other interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment would produce absurd consequences.
“To hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.”
In the next section of our discussion, we will verify the Court’s claim by looking at some specific examples of children being natural born citizens even though they were born to alien parents, but for now, it is important to note that the Court applied its view of the Fourteenth Amendment to “thousands of persons.”
This was not a narrow opinion which applied only to the children of permanent residents. The Wong Court correctly recognized that this was a test case, one that was intentionally contrived to eliminate broad classes of individuals from the protections of citizenship; and they ruled accordingly. They declared firmly and without any ambiguity that:
“The Fourteenth Amendment, while it leaves the power where it was before, in Congress, to regulate naturalization, has conferred no authority upon Congress to restrict the effect of birth, declared by the Constitution to constitute a sufficient and complete right to citizenship.”
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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