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What’s the intent of 14th Amendment? Law panel explores varied views

March 24, 2011
Marshall Kaplan of The Merage Foundations, far right, leads Wednesday panel discussion with Professor Cianciarulo and Judge Gray.

A large gathering of law students, lawyers and community members turned out for a panel discussion Wednesday night at Chapman University School of Law focusing on the issue of birthright citizenship.

A variety of issues were addressed by the panelists, which included Judge James Gray and Marisa Cianciarulo, associate professor, School of Law, but at the heart of much of their discussion was how the citizenship clause in the 14th Amendment should be interpreted. At issue, they said, is what the authors of the amendment intended when in addition to the “born or naturalized” wording they added “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”

Judge Gray argued that the wording has been misinterpreted by the courts since its passage and that children born in the United States to illegal immigrants should not be granted birthright citizenship, but be considered citizens of their parents’ countries.

“Why did they add the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof?’ It has to have a meaning. And that meaning is that basically if you’re born to a citizen, someone who is subject to our jurisdiction,” he said.

Professor Cianciarulo, however, argued in favor of the legal precedents set since the amendment’s passage in 1868 and said that the national debate over the 14th Amendment had been sidetracked by the social, economic and political issues related to immigration reform, rather than constitutional interpretation. She also said the amendment was not framed just to address citizenship for former slaves in the post-Civil War era.

“If they had wanted to limit it only to former slaves they could have and would have. They didn’t. That’s what’s meant by the plain language of the statute,” she said.

The debate was co-sponsored by the Orange County/Long Beach Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and was the second of a two-part civil rights series presented at the law school. Moderator for both events was Marshall Kaplan of The Merage Foundations.

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