Last year, Time christened Rand Paul “the most interesting man in American politics.” I suppose that’s true, if you consider Floyd the Barber the most interesting man in Mayberry. Like Floyd, Paul always seems to be gazing at some fabulous landscape no one else can see; like Floyd, he is given to non-responsive pronouncements that don’t always make sense to ordinary mortals.
That propensity was on display in last week’s Republican debate, in which Paul managed to attach himself to Donald Trump’s assault on the bedrock Fourteenth Amendment principle of birthright citizenship. In the wake of Trump’s claim that only “television scholars” uphold that principle, Paul interjected the following:
The case that was decided around 1900 was, people had a green card, were here legally, and they said that their children were citizens. There’s never been a direct Supreme Court case on people who were here illegally, whether or not their kids are citizens. So it hasn’t really been completely adjudicated. The Fourteenth Amendment says that “those who are here and under the jurisdiction.” The original author of the—of the Fourteenth Amendment said on the Senate floor that this was applying to slaves, and did not specifically apply to others.
This statement contains one half-truth (at best) and one statement that, though vaguely phrased, seems flatly false. The half-truth concerns the case of Wong Kim Ark v. United States, in which the Supreme Court considered the citizenship clause and concluded that the words—“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”—mean that an American born in the U.S. of Chinese parents was a U.S. citizen, even though, under the law at the time, the parents were not and could never become citizens themselves.