United States v. Wong Kim Ark

United States v. Wong Kim Ark
Argued March 5, 8, 1897
Decided March 28, 1898
Full case nameUnited States v. Wong Kim Ark
Citations169 U.S. 649 (more)
18 S. Ct. 456; 42 L. Ed. 890; 1898 U.S. LEXIS 1515
Case history
PriorAppeal from the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California; 71 F. 382
Holding
The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment must be interpreted in light of English common law,[1] and thus it grants U.S. citizenship to almost all children born to alien parents on American soil, with only a limited set of exceptions.[2][3]
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
John M. Harlan · Horace Gray
David J. Brewer · Henry B. Brown
George Shiras Jr. · Edward D. White
Rufus W. Peckham · Joseph McKenna
Case opinions
MajorityGray, joined by Brewer, Brown, Shiras, White, Peckham
DissentFuller, joined by Harlan
McKenna took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), was a landmark decision[4] of the U.S. Supreme Court which held that "a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China",[5] automatically became a U.S. citizen at birth.[6] This decision established an important precedent in its interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.[7]

Wong Kim Ark, who was born in San Francisco in 1873, had been denied re-entry to the United States after a trip abroad, under a law restricting Chinese immigration and prohibiting immigrants from China from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. He challenged the government's refusal to recognize his citizenship, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, holding that the citizenship language in the Fourteenth Amendment encompassed the circumstances of his birth and could not be limited in its effect by an act of Congress.[8]

The case highlighted disagreements over the precise meaning of one phrase in the Citizenship Clause—namely, the provision that a person born in the United States who is "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" acquires automatic citizenship. The Supreme Court's majority concluded that this phrase referred to being required to obey U.S. law; on this basis, they interpreted the language of the Fourteenth Amendment in a way that granted U.S. citizenship to children born of foreigners (a concept known as jus soli), with only a limited set of exceptions mostly based in English common law.[2] The court's dissenters argued that being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States meant not being subject to any foreign power[9]—that is, not being claimed as a citizen by another country via jus sanguinis (inheriting citizenship from a parent)—an interpretation which, in the minority's view, would have excluded "the children of foreigners, happening to be born to them while passing through the country".[10]

In the words of a 2007 legal analysis of events following the Wong Kim Ark decision, "The parameters of the jus soli principle, as stated by the court in Wong Kim Ark, have never been seriously questioned by the Supreme Court, and have been accepted as dogma by lower courts."[11] A 2010 review of the history of the Citizenship Clause notes that the Wong Kim Ark decision held that the guarantee of birthright citizenship "applies to children of foreigners present on American soil" and states that the Supreme Court "has not re-examined this issue since the concept of 'illegal alien' entered the language".[12] Since the 1990s, however, controversy has arisen over the longstanding practice of granting automatic citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, and legal scholars disagree over whether the Wong Kim Ark precedent applies when alien parents are in the country illegally.[13][14] Attempts have been made from time to time in Congress to restrict birthright citizenship, either via statutory redefinition of the term jurisdiction, or by overriding both the Wong Kim Ark ruling and the Citizenship Clause itself through an amendment to the Constitution, but no such proposal has been enacted.

  1. ^ "The Constitution nowhere defines the meaning of these words, either by way of inclusion or of exclusion, except insofar as this is done by the affirmative declaration that 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.' In this as in other respects, it must be interpreted in the light of the common law, the principles and history of which were familiarly known to the framers of the Constitution."
  2. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Wong Kim Ark 693 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference Glen 2007 74-76 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ Barbash, Fred (October 30, 2018). "Birthright citizenship: A Trump-inspired history lesson on the 14th Amendment". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. at 653. "The question presented by the record is whether a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, '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.'"
  6. ^ Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. at 705. "The evident intention, and the necessary effect, of the submission of this case to the decision of the court upon the facts agreed by the parties were to present for determination the single question stated at the beginning of this opinion, namely, whether a child born in the United States, of parent "[sic]" of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States. For the reasons above stated, this court is of opinion that the question must be answered in the affirmative."
  7. ^ "Donald Trump meet Wong Kim Ark, the Chinese American Cook who is the father of 'birthright citizenship'". Washington Post. August 31, 2015.
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference cannot_control_or_impair was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Cite error: The named reference Eastman_2006_2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  10. ^ Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. at 715.
  11. ^ Cite error: The named reference Glen_2007_80 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  12. ^ Epps (2010), p. 332.
  13. ^ Cite error: The named reference Eastman_2006_3_4 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  14. ^ Cite error: The named reference Ho_2006 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

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