Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:
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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The citizenship provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment may be seen as a repudiation of one of the more politically divisive cases of the nineteenth century. Under common law, free persons born within a state or nation were citizens thereof. In the Dred Scott case, 1 however, Chief Justice Taney, writing for the Court, ruled that this rule did not apply to freed slaves. The Court held that United States citizenship was enjoyed by only two classes of people: (1) white persons born in the United States as descendants of
persons, who were at the time of the adoption of the Constitution recognised as citizens in the several States, [and who] became also citizens of this new political body, the United States of America, and (2) those who, having been
born outside the dominions of the United States, had migrated thereto and been naturalized therein. 2 Freed slaves fell into neither of these categories.
The Court further held that, although a state could confer state citizenship upon whomever it chose, it could not make the recipient of such status a citizen of the United States. Even a free man descended from a former slave residing as a free man in one of the states at the date of ratification of the Constitution was held ineligible for citizenship. 3 Congress subsequently repudiated this concept of citizenship, first in section 1 4 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 5 and then in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. In doing so, Congress set aside the Dred Scott holding, and restored the traditional precepts of citizenship by birth. 6
Based on the first sentence of section 1, 7 the Court has held that a child born in the United States of Chinese parents who were ineligible to be naturalized themselves is nevertheless a citizen of the United States entitled to all the rights and privileges of citizenship. 8 The requirement that a person be
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, however, excludes its application to children born of diplomatic representatives of a foreign state, children born of alien enemies in hostile occupation, 9 or children of members of Indian tribes subject to tribal laws. 10 In addition, the citizenship of children born on vessels in United States territorial waters or on the high seas has generally been held by the lower courts to be determined by the citizenship of the parents. 11 Citizens of the United States within the meaning of this Amendment must be natural and not artificial persons; a corporate body is not a citizen of the United States. 12
In Afroyim v. Rusk, 13 a divided Court extended the force of this first sentence beyond prior holdings, ruling that it withdrew from the government of the United States the power to expatriate United States citizens against their will for any reason.
[T]he Amendment can most reasonably be read as defining a citizenship which a citizen keeps unless he voluntarily relinquishes it. Once acquired, this Fourteenth Amendment citizenship was not to be shifted, canceled, or diluted at the will of the Federal Government, the States, or any other government unit. 14 In a subsequent decision, however, the Court held that persons who were statutorily naturalized by being born abroad of at least one American parent could not claim the protection of the first sentence of section 1 and that Congress could therefore impose a reasonable and non-arbitrary condition subsequent upon their continued retention of United States citizenship. 15 Between these two decisions is a tension that should call forth further litigation efforts to explore the meaning of the citizenship sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment.