Trump ‘Declares War’ on 14th Amendment, Says Constitutional Expert

University of Baltimore

Garrett Epps

The 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the great equalizer in our country, the reason government can’t treat one class of citizens differently than others.

But President Donald Trump thinks one part of the amendment, the part that guarantees that anyone who’s born here has citizenship, needs to go.

And the president is convinced — or at least he says he’s convinced — that he can make that change on his own, through an executive order.

Now, we want to be careful here not to indulge political manipulation. The president’s 14th Amendment announcement comes, not coincidentally, just a week before midterm elections, and the birthright issue is red meat for the Republican base — it ties directly into concerns about immigration.

But Trump is flirting with constitutional upheaval, and even authoritarianism, with this gesture.

Could it happen? Who would stop the president if he does this?

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with constitutional law expert Garrett Epps about these questions and about the history of the 14th Amendment, which Epps calls a “second founding” in America. He is contributing editor for The Atlantic who teaches constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, and wrote an article this week in The Atlantic titled, “The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says.”

Epps writes in the article:

A nation that can rid itself of groups it dislikes has journeyed far down the road to authoritarian rule. The idea behind the attack on birthright citizenship is often obscured by a wall of dubious originalist rhetoric and legalese. At its base, the claim is that children born in the U.S. are not citizens if they are born to noncitizen parents. The idea contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause, it flies in the face of more than a century of practice, and it would create a shadow population of American-born people who have no state, no legal protection, and no real rights that the government is bound to respect. It would set the stage for an internal witch hunt worse than almost anything since the anti-immigrant rage of the 1920s.”

Click on the audio player above to hear Epps’ conversation with Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today.

Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

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