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Defending Birthright: ABA House Urges Rejection of Proposals to Limit Citizenship

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The ABA House of Delegates voted in Toronto to urge federal lawmakers to reject attempts to change the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution regarding birthright citizenship.

Resolution 303 (PDF) “urges Congress to reject any resolution proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would alter, in any way, the grant of United States citizenship under the 14th Amendment to any persons born in the United States (including territories, possessions and commonwealths) … based upon the citizenship or immigration status of one or both parents at the time of the person’s birth.”

The ABA’s Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities—created by immediate-past President Stephen N. Zack, the first Hispanic-American ABA president—submitted the resolution after “hundreds of public hearings throughout the states to listen to and understand the specific issues facing the Hispanic population,” said Cesar L. Alvarez, the commission chair.

“There is a concerted effort in certain parts of this country to target Hispanics, to discriminate against Hispanics, that is unprecedented in this country,” Alvarez said.

In its report supporting the resolution, the Hispanic rights commission expressed its concern that efforts to alter U.S. citizenship rules pose a particular threat to this country’s growing Hispanic community. “Efforts to restrict the right of citizenship under the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment … are a significant threat to the civil rights of Latinas and Latinos in the United States, including their right to participate fully in the United States legal system,” the report states.

In an earlier program sponsored by the ABA Commission on Immigration, speakers echoed the concerns expressed in the commission’s report to the House.

Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, put the debate over birthright citizenship in the context of the larger debate over how the Constitution should be interpreted. “It’s hard not to view this reinvigorated debate as a reflection of a growing interest by states in nullifying long-standing constitutional doctrine,” he said.


In addition, the house passed resolutions during its two-day session submitted by entities that are working on Zack’s other key initiatives. Incoming ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III has said that all of the initiatives will continue during his term. They included:

Resolution 300 (PDF), submitted by the Commission on Civic Education in the Nation’s Schools, which recommends “that state, local and territorial bar associations urge state and local legislatures, education commissions and school boards to mandate civic education classes/ courses in elementary, middle and secondary public schools.”

Resolution 116 (PDF), submitted by the Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness, which “urges all lawyers to regularly assess their practice environment to identify and address risks that arise from any natural or man-made disaster that may compromise their ability to diligently and competently protect their clients’ interests and maintain the security of their clients’ property.”

In other action, the House:

• Gave each of the U.S. Pacific territories its own seat in the House of Delegates. Resolution 11-2 (PDF) amends the ABA Constitution so that Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (actually a commonwealth), which shared a joint seat, will each now have its own seat. American Samoa also will have its own seat in the House. Previously, American Samoa had no representation. With the addition of these seats, the size of the House of Delegates will increase from 566 to 568.

• Rejected, after much debate, a resolution calling for the ABA to approve the Uniform Collaborative Law Rules/Act. Resolution 110B (PDF) was submitted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The conference proposed guidelines that could be adopted by states as either rules or statute. The conference report noted that four states have enacted collaborative law statutes: California, North Carolina, Texas and Utah. But several speakers opposed the ABA’s adoption of the collaborative law guidelines, primarily on grounds that the conference’s proposal would open the door to regulation of lawyers by state legislatures. The resolution was turned back 298-154.

• Approved Resolution 107 (PDF), sponsored by the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, to support efforts at the state level to establish clear procedures for judicial disqualifications and the implementation of procedures to review a judge’s decision to reject a disqualification request.

• Adopted a resolution calling for actions by legal educators to more adequately prepare law students for the real-life experience of practicing law and bolster CLE training to better bridge the gap between law school and actual practice. Submitted in a late report from the New York State Bar Association, Resolution 10B (PDF) urges the ABA to “take steps to assure that law schools, law firms, law examiners, CLE providers and others concerned with continued professional development provide the knowledge, skills, values, habits and traits that make up the successful modern lawyer.”

• Urged the U.S. government to provide for more flexible and competitive terms for federal student loans. Resolution 111A (PDF) “urges Congress to enact legislation that assists individuals who are experiencing financial hardship due to excessive levels of student loan debt.” The House also approved Resolution 111B (PDF), which “urges all ABA-approved law schools to report employment data that identifies whether graduates have obtained full-time or part-time employment within the legal profession, whether in the private or public sector, or whether in alternative professions and whether such employment is permanent or temporary.”

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