- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 6

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on ending birthright citizenship:

Congressional hearings were held last week on a bill aimed at ending birthright citizenship - the principle that anyone born in the United States, with the exception of those whose parents are in the service of a foreign government, is an American citizen.

A bill pushed by U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, would require that at least one parent would have to be an American citizen for a child to inherit citizenship. The effort arose because of nativist fears that Hispanic immigrants are coming here in droves to deliver “anchor babies” that would make deportation of the parents more problematic. In reality, however, giving birth to an American citizen does not change the parents’ immigration status.

King’s bill is misguided. Congress does not have the authority to end birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Eliminating birthright citizenship can be accomplished only by amending the Constitution. It is disappointing that Tennessee Reps. John J. Duncan Jr., Phil Roe and Scott DesJarlais are among the bill’s co-sponsors.

All nations have absolute authority to determine who can become a citizen, and other nations require parental citizenship for a child born within their borders to gain citizenship. In the United States, the Constitution states that people become American citizens in one of two ways - by birth or through naturalization.

The Constitution authorizes Congress to develop a naturalization process, but initially was silent on the specifics of birthright citizenship. During the early decades of the nation, the courts essentially followed English Common Law, which governed the colonies prior to the Revolution, in deeming that anyone born on American soil was an American.

The freeing of the slaves after the Civil War posed a difficult legal question - How would freed slaves become citizens? The Civil Rights Act of 1866 codified birthright citizenship, but a majority in Congress pressed for a permanent solution in the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Though the language is plain enough, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the definitive interpretation of the clause in an 1898 decision involving a man of Chinese descent born in San Francisco. In the majority opinion, Justice Horace Gray wrote that Wong Kim Ark had been an American citizen since his birth in 1873. The exceptions to birthright citizenship are the children of diplomats, occupying soldiers and other officials of foreign governments. The decision also clarified that the Citizenship Clause applies to everyone born in the United States, not just freed slaves.

The 14th Amendment, Gray wrote, “has conferred no authority upon Congress to restrict the effect of birth, declared by the Constitution to constitute a sufficient and complete right to citizenship.”

Birthright citizenship helps define our country as a nation of immigrants and is enshrined in the Constitution. If we as a nation are to change the fundamental nature of American citizenship, we should do so in the right way and for the right reasons.




May 5

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on incorrigible criminals:

Those who have seen the 1976 film “Network” no doubt will remember the soliloquy by deranged television anchorman Howard Beale, played by the late Peter Finch, that ended in this iconic declaration: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Beale’s verbal rampage dealt with a host of societal ills, including, “Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.”

While state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, is far from being deranged, he hopes his Neighborhood Protection Act, approved by the Tennessee General Assembly April 20, will get repeat criminals out of neighborhoods by giving crime-weary homeowners a legal tool to deter criminal activity.

The bill is not a crime-prevention silver bullet, but gives residents an avenue to deal with incorrigible criminals who terrorized their neighborhoods - and that is a good thing.

Parkinson said the bill, drafted with input from citizens, is the first of its kind in the nation.

After it is signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam, neighborhood associations, neighborhood watch groups and similar organizations will be able to file restraining orders against someone who commits three or more thefts, burglaries, rapes or murders in an area defined by the group’s charter.

The law will not apply to crimes committed before the law’s approval and the restraining orders, unless extended by a judge, end after a year.

You could say the law gives neighborhood residents the same protection as a person who is being harassed by domestic partner or stalker.

Crime trends over the years have shown that some criminals, once they have served their time, return to their old neighborhoods, usually resuming their criminal ways.

There is an argument to be made that in a perfect world this kind of law would not be necessary if schools, parents, and juvenile justice and criminal justice officials could form a more effective partnership to keep young people from becoming teen or adult criminals. And, that is not to say they are not trying.

Also, more needs to be done to prepare felons for a life outside prison, including helping them find meaningful employment. Tennessee’s ex-inmate recidivism rate is about 38 percent.

Longer prison sentences also could help.

But this is not a perfect world and some people are determined to follow a criminal path, usually in their old neighborhoods. Until they are caught, they burglarize homes, steal from motor vehicles and commit violent acts.

They go to prison, get out and the cycle starts anew.

Restraining orders are not a panacea. They only are as good as the willingness of the targeted person to obey the order. If they do not - as we have seen in some domestic violence cases - it is up to police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce the orders.

It remains to be seen if the Neighborhood Protection Act will have an appreciable impact on neighborhood crime.

Still, we like the idea that community organizations will have a legal weapon at their disposal to try to do something about criminals who prey on their neighborhoods.

It lets them say they are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.




May 4

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on big-money groups seeking to influence Tennessee state policy:

There’s nothing illegal about it, but it still stinks. Out-of-state pressure groups spend big money trying to influence policy of Tennessee state government.

That includes some relative newcomers to the state political scene that spend millions lobbying and exerting pressure, according to a report in The Tennessean in Nashville.

Courts have ruled that spending money to get their word across is a form of speech, and thus it’s under constitutional protection.

The problem is that money talks, and the big money behind these campaigns can drown out the opinions of ordinary citizens, the people who are most affected when the state adopts a new policy.

The Tennessean report singled out three national organizations whose political spending in this state has increased dramatically within the past three years.

Americans for Prosperity, a group that seeks lower taxes, less government and an end to Obamacare, spent more than $1.1 million lobbying last year, a hundred times more than in all previous years.

The American Federation for Children, pushing for education reforms involving “school choice” for parents, reported $606,345 in political spending by its state affiliate.

Students First, which wants to see reforms including school vouchers, reported that its state political action committee spent $573,917.

All three are right-wing groups, but it’s only fair to report that groups on the left, including the National Education Association, the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union, have long worked to influence state policy.

“If I could put limits in place, I would,” House Speaker Beth Harwell said. “But the courts have spoken, and that’s the way it is.”

In the end, we must rely on the good judgment of the legislators we elect. So it might be helpful if, come election time, candidates for the legislature are quizzed about their reaction to the big spenders.



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