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VOL. 43 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 22, 2019

Griffey ignores constitution with Trump shout out

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This week’s topic requires that I temporarily forsake my goal of making this a Trump-free zone. For that I blame Rep. Bruce Griffey.

The president, as you might recall, has vowed to end what is known as birthright citizenship with a swipe of his executive order pen. I had ignored the threat, as I try to ignore virtually everything from the current White House occupant for purposes of my own personal sanity.

But Griffey, via a resolution killed this week in the Tennessee House, took it upon himself to muster legislative support to commend the president “for his leadership and foresight and for his proposal to re-establish the original intent, purpose, and limits of the 14th Amendment.”

As such, the Paris Republican wants the State of Tennessee to officially endorse a denial of constitutional rights. And that is something, as Winston Churchill once put it in a different context, up with which I will not put.

A quick explanation: Birthright citizenship in this instance refers to the conferring of U.S. citizenship on almost anyone born in the country, based on the 14th Amendment.

The offspring of foreign diplomats and such born here are excluded, but the offspring of illegal immigrants are not. And that galls some folks who fear the country will be overrun by Trojan horse “anchor babies” produced by hordes of invading “aliens.”

No other country confers citizenship at birth, the president has asserted.

That is, depending on the president’s knowledge of the subject, either a gross factual error or a blatant lie. (I grant you, it’s often a close call.) Some 29 other countries do, including Canada and Mexico, with which we share borders.

Griffey doesn’t argue that point. But his resolution purports to divine that the amendment was never meant to apply to offspring of people here illegally, an argument centered on the amendment qualifier “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”

To that end he resurrects a couple of U.S. senators from the 1860s to buttress his contention. I thought about including their quotes, and lodging my objections, but decided to adhere to the great Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing, in this case No. 10:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Instead, I’ll rely on the American Civil Liberties Union, which pays a good deal of attention to the Constitution and its provisions, to address Griffey’s claim. This is from Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director:

“In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that the citizenship guarantee applies fully to U.S.-born children, including those whose parents have no right to citizenship.”

The case involved a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese parents who could not become citizens, being barred by the (now defunct) Chinese Exclusion Act.

“The justices in that case found that the baby was automatically a citizen at birth, specifically rejecting the argument that a child in those circumstances was not ‘subject to the jurisdiction’ of the United States, and thus excluded from the Constitution’s citizenship guarantee.”

Weinberg neatly dismisses Griffey’s effort as pointless.

“A discriminatory resolution passed by the Tennessee General Assembly cannot change the fact that birthright citizenship is one of the bedrock principles of this country.”

Griffey is operating under a bedrock principle of his own. The birthright resolution is just one of a package of his bills dealing with immigrants in one way or another, all designed with a singular aim:

“I want to make Tennessee be the very last place that illegal aliens want to come and all of [the] bills seek to do just that,” Griffey told Nashville’s Fox TV affiliate.

Perhaps you, like the happy Trumpster Griffey, believe illegal immigration to be the gravest threat facing this country. If so, I suggest that you’ve been misled by … somebody.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.

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