For most of the history of the republic there have been three main pathways to citizenship. You could be born to parents who were American citizens (citizenship by blood), or born physically inside the territorial boundaries of the United States (citizenship by soil), or you could go through the process of naturalization by renouncing your allegiance to a foreign country and swearing allegiance to the United States. That seems simple enough, right?

Except, of course, nothing is ever that simple. Maybe it was once, but from our seat here in the 21st century, when every aspect of government has been bureaucratized and politics has been almost weaponized, it’s not as simple as it seems. Or perhaps it’s not as simple as it even should be.

The complexity arrives in the form of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, in part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”

At first glance, it’s straightforward enough. If you’re born or naturalized in the United States, you are a citizen. Except maybe not. The argument here rests on what the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means. Is the physical act of being withing the boarders of the United States sufficient to meet the threshold of being subject to the jurisdiction? Does it apply only to those who find themselves lawfully within the jurisdiction (green card holders, for example)? If you are in the country illegally does that in itself create a situation where you have placed yourself, by definition, in a position of being not subject to the jurisdiction by virtue of not abiding by the laws and statutes governing immigration.

Among the many things I’m not is a constitutional scholar, but I am an avid student of history. The president, it’s reported, intends to test the limits of the 14th Amendment with an Executive Order. Since the court has been silent on this particular constitutional detail for the last 120 years, the administration seems to feel the time is ripe for a test case. Sure, it will cause both sides of the political spectrum to lose their minds even more than usual, but the discussion of constitutional merits by people who can manage to keep their heads will be fascinating.

For years studying history and politics all I heard was “how could you do that” or “oh, it’s so boring.” It’s 2018 and if you’re bored by politics do you even have a pulse?

Common sense…

In the wake of today’s presidential decree of executive action on the issue of gun control I keep hearing the refrain that we need “common sense” legislation. That leads inexorably to the discussion of how we define common sense. The very definition of those two words will be very different depending on whether you happen to be one of my gun grabbing friends on the left or my open carry friends on the right. What smells like common sense to me likely wouldn’t satisfy either group. Perception is a bitch like that.

Until we arrive in a place where one side isn’t viewed as wanting to put a rifle in every hand and the other side isn’t viewed as wanting to melt every barrel for scrap, I don’t see a way towards even a basic definition of what “common sense” legislation might look like. Until we find that definition we’ll continue to have what we have today, which is both sides entrenched and able to hold the other largely in check indefinitely.

As long as we’re locked into an argument where the slightest retreat by either side is seen as threatening the collapse of their entire position, I can’t imagine what common sense might look like. I foresee only continued entrenchment and both camps racing away from the middle of the discussion.