In an interview published on Tuesday byAxios, President Donald Trump said he was preparing an executive order to end birthright citizenship in the United States.
That proposal harks back to a time when white supremacy was enshrined by law, and it may be the administration’s most direct assault yet on our democracy.
When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, it made no reference to the qualifications for citizenship, except for the provision that authorized Congress to regulate naturalization. However, the Constitution implicitly denied citizenship to enslaved Black Americans by treating them as property rather than people. Under the Fugitive Slave Clause, slaves who escaped to free states could not become free citizens, but instead would be “delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom [their] Service or Labour may be due.”
In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court went even further in enshrining, by law, a white supremacist vision of citizenship. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, widely regarded as the worst decision in the Court’s history, Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that Black Americans—including free Black Americans—“were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.” Because Black people were not citizens, Taney reasoned, they had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”