Category Archives: Op-Eds

Birthright Citizenship: No Having It Both Ways Passports

I wonder if Donald Trump’s family has a coat of arms. If not, I suggest that the most fitting heraldic symbol for the Republican presidential front-runner is an open can, labeled “worms.” The Donald has certainly demonstrated a flair for bringing controversial issues to the table. Following several amuse bouches and appetizers, it looks like the soup course is “birthright citizenship.”

The conventional understanding of American citizenship by birth is simple: If you’re born here under most circumstances, there’s no need to pass Go, collect $200, take a test on the Constitution, swear an oath, whatever. If you’re born here, you’re a citizen, the single exception occurring if you are not “subject to the jurisdiction of” the United States. That exception was thrown in to cover children born to representatives of other countries, who are also covered by things like “diplomatic immunity,”  placing them outside US jurisdiction in most respects.

Simple enough, right? But Trump (and some other Republican politicians) would like to “reinterpret” the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause to exclude children of undocumented immigrants.

Aside from the obvious contradiction involved — “conservatives” usually howl when it’s suggested that the Constitution just be “reinterpreted” to get a desired result — there’s also a built-in trap that they don’t seem to be taking much notice of.

The only way to remove birthright citizenship from the Constitution through “reinterpretation” is to assert that the children of undocumented immigrants are not within the jurisdiction of the United States. And that’s very close to an all-or-nothing thing.

For example,  US courts can’t try or punish those accused of committing crimes while under the protection of diplomatic immunity. Why? Because the function of that immunity is to place them outside the jurisdiction of the United States.  All the US can do is declare such accused criminals persona non grata and tell them to leave.

Millions of undocumented immigrants and their children live in the United States. The project of deporting them all has failed time and time again. Is it really wise to double down on deportation efforts while simultaneously telling all these people “oh, by the way, do anything you want while we keep trying — rape, murder, anything goes — after all, you’re not within our jurisdiction, so there’s not a thing we can do about it?” That’s the unavoidable logic of denying birthright citizenship absent a constitutional amendment.

The absolute best solution to this made-up “problem,” of course, would be a return to the American way: Open the borders and quit creating “problems” that do not exist and have never existed in reality. Unfortunately, politics is the art of creating such imaginary problems and then spectacularly, expensively, disastrously failing to solve them.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Abortion: The “Rape and Incest Exception” is Demagoguery

English: Photograph of abdomen of a pregnant woman
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever abortion comes up in a political context, pro-choice advocates highlight pro-life candidates’ refusal to support a “rape and incest exception” to any proposed ban on, or regulation of, abortion. The 2016 presidential campaign is no exception. This week CNN anchor Dana Bash handed the hot potato to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s response:

“A 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible. But does it solve a problem by taking the life of an innocent child? And that’s really the issue.”

Pro-choice publications predictably erupted, painting Huckabee as cold-hearted for his position. But that position flows inexorably from the logic of his larger pro-life stance, and is in fact a libertarian argument.

Notice that I said A libertarian argument, not THE libertarian argument.

Libertarians differ among ourselves on abortion (no, I’m not going to tell you where I come down on it). Some of us are pro-choice. Some of us are pro-life. But all of us view the issue through the lens of the same principle: That it is impermissible to initiate force and that we may only use force defensively or to recover damages from someone who “threw the first punch.”

Pro-choice libertarians believe that a fertilized embryo or in utero fetus is not a person with rights, that the mother is fully entitled to control of her own body, and that forbidding her an abortion would be an initiation of force against her.

Pro-life libertarians believe that at some point prior to birth (for some, that goes all the way back to conception), a fertilized embryo IS a person with rights — a person who has initiated force against no one and who therefore may not be permissibly killed.

There are other, more nuanced, libertarian arguments about abortion, but those are the bare basics.

Coming from the pro-life libertarian position, both the 10-year-old pregnant girl and her unborn child in this story are victims of an aggressor (the rapist whose actions resulted in the pregnancy). Abortion violates the rights of the unborn child, who is not an aggressor, and is therefore morally impermissible (unless, of course, it becomes a matter of self-defense, i.e. carrying the baby to term would kill or gravely harm the mother).

The problem with the “rape and incest exception” position is that it doesn’t address the questions raised above.

If abortion is a right, it’s a right whether rape or incest are involved or not.

If abortion is not a right, rape and incest don’t make it into a right.

To put it more bluntly, the “rape and incest exception” attack is demagoguery — a crass play on emotion rather than an appeal to fact. As a pro-choice argument, it’s an epic fail.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.




After the Circus, Consider Your Options

Libertarian Party Logo
Libertarian Party Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but among people I’ve talked with about next year’s presidential election there’s a deep feeling of disgust. Watching the Republicans debate and the Democrats speechify, their feeling so far is “Really? We can’t do any better than these clowns?”

I feel their pain — and, I suspect, yours too. I wouldn’t leave my wallet alone in a room with any of the guys or gals running for president on a “major party” ticket. But then, I usually feel that way.

What’s changing is that more and more people are agreeing with me. Since 2004, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who think we need a “third party” has risen from 40% to as high as 60%. The percentage of Americans who think the Republicans and Democrats do an “adequate” job has fallen from 56% to 35%.

So, enjoy the circus for now, I guess, but as Donald Trump pedals his giant tricycle around and Hillary Clinton juggles disappearing email servers, keep the “third party” thing in mind …. and don’t forget that there already IS a third party working hard to earn your support.

The Libertarian Party boasts 152 currently serving elected public officials, ranging from city council members to fire and water district representatives.

The party has yet to elect a governor, congressmember or president, but not for lack of trying. The first woman to receive an electoral vote wasn’t Geraldine Ferraro; it was the Libertarian Party’s first vice-presidential nominee, Tonie Nathan, in 1972. The party has elected hundreds of local officials and a few state representatives. It’s clearly a serious political player. If you’re unhappy with the “major party” offerings, why not take a closer look?

Darryl W. Perry, Cecil Anthony Ince and Marc Feldman have already declared for the Libertarian Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Rumor has it that the elephant in the room (pun intended — he’s the former Republican governor of New Mexico), Gary Johnson, may throw his hat in the Libertarian ring again and try to top his 2012 total of 1.6 million votes.

Pay attention. Explore. If you’re not a libertarian, check out the Greens, the Constitution Party, heck, even the Prohibition Party. There ARE alternatives to the “major party” freak show.

Or you can keep on doing what you’ve always done and get what you’ve always got. Because that’s worked so well in the past, right?

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.