HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania called on state lawmakers to reject a bill proposed today by Representative Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County that is intended to deny Americans the fundamental protections of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU made the call after a group of state legislators, including Rep. Metcalfe, announced that they will introduce bills in their state legislatures that would do just that by requiring states to deny standard birth certificates to many U.S. citizen babies born in the U.S. to immigrant parents.
The proposed legislation would also require all people in the U.S., whether citizens or not, to prove their status before they can receive a standard birth certificate for their baby. Currently, there is no such requirement. The bill, which Metcalfe says he will introduce in the current legislative session, directly contradicts the long-standing 14th Amendment guarantee that all people born in the U.S. and under its jurisdiction are citizens of the U.S. and the state in which they reside and equal under the law.
Metcalfe joined lawmakers from several other states who are proposing similar legislation in their states at a press conference today. If enacted, the bills are unlikely to survive legal scrutiny since the Constitution can only be changed by amendment, not by state or federal statute.
"The 14th Amendment provides protection from discrimination and ensures that citizenship is not prone to the political whims of the day," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Without it, the United States would have a permanent underclass, a caste system.
"But we are confident that Pennsylvania's state legislators will reject this attempt to subvert the Constitution."
Adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment negated one of the Supreme Court's most infamous rulings, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that neither freed slaves nor their descendants could ever become citizens. The Amendment, which conferred the rights of citizenship on all who were born in this country, including freed slaves, was enacted in response to laws passed by the former Confederate states that prevented African Americans from entering professions, owning or leasing land, accessing public accommodations, serving on juries and voting.
"The 14th Amendment is about protecting fairness and equality in the United States, values that Pennsylvanians hold dear," Hoover said. "Metcalfe's bill is unconstitutional and would certainly be challenged and rejected, if it somehow became law. Equality under the law does not depend upon who your parents are or where they came from.
"Hopefully, our state legislators understand this and will reject this bill."
In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the guarantee of the 14th Amendment and affirmed the fundamental principle that children born on American soil are U.S. citizens without regard to their parents' status. In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Court held that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese parents who were subjects of China and were prohibited by law from becoming U.S. citizens was a citizen at birth under the 14th Amendment. This principle has been the settled law of the land for more than a century.