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Obama Presidential Eligibility – An Introductory Primer

Obama Presidential Eligibility – An Introductory Primer
http://people.mags.net/tonchen/birthers.htm ^ | 06/05/2009 | Stephen Tonchen

Posted on Friday, June 19, 2009 8:16:14 PM by BuckeyeTexan

Obama Presidential Eligibility – An Introductory Primer

Last revised: June 5, 2009

Abstract

Despite the mainstream news media’s silence regarding this matter, an increasing number of Americans are concerned that Barack Obama might not be eligible, under the Constitution, to serve as President.

According to the U.S. Constitution, an individual born after 1787 cannot legally or legitimately serve as U.S. President unless he or she is a “natural born citizen” of the United States.

Among members of Congress and the mainstream news media, the consensus of opinion is that anyone born in the United States is a “natural born citizen”. However, when we researched this issue a bit more carefully, we found that the consensus opinion is not consistent with American history.

In Minor v. Happersett (1874), the Supreme Court said that, if you were born in the United States and both of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth, you are, without doubt, a natural born citizen. In the same case, the Supreme Court also said that, if you were born in the United States and one of your parents was not a U.S. citizen when you were born, your natural born citizenship is in doubt. So far, the Supreme Court has not resolved this doubt because, until now, there has never been any need to do so.

With only two exceptions, every American President, who was born after 1787, was born in the United States, to parents who were both U.S. citizens. The two exceptions were Chester Arthur and Barack Obama. When Chester Arthur ran for office, the public did not know about his eligibility problem. Only recently did historians learn that, when Arthur was born, his father was not a U.S. citizen. The 2008 election was the first time in history that the United States knowingly elected a President who was born after 1787 and whose parents were not both U.S. citizens.

Barack Obama publicly admits that his father was not a U.S. citizen. According to Minor v. Happersett, there is unresolved doubt as to whether the child of a non-citizen parent is a natural born citizen. This doubt is not based on the imaginings of some tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringe of society. This doubt comes from what the Supreme Court has actually said, as well as a variety of other historical and legal sources which are presented and discussed here.

This Primer introduces and explains the Obama Eligibility Controversy, in question-and-answer format, for a non-technical general audience. We’ve double-checked the facts presented here, and we’ve cited the sources of each fact.

Questions and Answers

1. What is a “birther”?
2. What are the eligibility requirements for President?
3. Why do birthers think Barack Obama is not eligible to be President?
4. How is “natural born citizen” defined?
5. In a nutshell, what is the Obama eligibility controversy?
6. Does the birthers’ viewpoint have any historical or legal merit?
7. What was the original purpose of the presidential “natural born citizen” requirement?
8. What is the difference between a “Constitutional” and a “statutory” natural born citizen?
9. Wouldn’t the most recent modern-day statutory meaning of “natural born citizen” take precedence over the original Constitutional meaning?
10. If Obama is not a “Constitutional natural born citizen”, so what? Why should anyone care?
11. Why has every birther lawsuit been dismissed?
12. What is a 14th Amendment natural born citizen?
13. In the 14th Amendment, what does “jurisdiction” mean?
14. Doesn’t the Wong Kim Ark decision make Obama a “natural born citizen”?
15. Doesn’t the Julia Lynch case show that Obama is a “natural born citizen”?
16. Could “natural born citizen” be based on the British Common Law principle of jus soli?
17. What’s the “beef” with President Obama’s birth certificate?
18. Didn’t the State of Hawaii recently verify that President Obama was born in Hawaii?
19. Doesn’t the mere existence of Barack Obama’s original Hawaiian birth certificate prove that he was born in Hawaii?
20. Do birthers actually believe that President Obama was born in a foreign country?
21. If President Obama’s birth certificate shows conclusively that he was born in Hawaii, would it end the eligibility controversy?
22. Where do we go from here?

1. What is a “birther”?

News commentators and Internet bloggers invented the word “birther” as a term of derision and contempt towards people who question Barack Obama’s presidential eligibility. Ironically, many birthers accepted the label and adopted it as their own. See, for example, The Birthers Web Site.

In this paper, “birther” does not refer to any particular group or organization. Rather, it refers respectfully to people who think Barack Obama is not eligible to serve as U.S. President.

2. What are the eligibility requirements for President?

Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution states:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

This means that, in modern times, you cannot legally or legitimately serve as President of the United States, unless you are:

  • at least 35 years of age
  • a resident of the United States for at least 14 years
  • a natural born citizen.

Regarding the third requirement (“natural born citizen”), the Constitution made a special exception for people who were citizens when the Constitution was adopted. Such people did not need to be natural born citizens. Their pre-Constitution citizenship, by itself, was sufficient to meet the third requirement.

Today, this special exception is no longer applicable. No one alive today was a citizen when the Constitution was adopted. In modern times, if you wish to be President, it is not enough to be a U.S. citizen. You must be a natural born citizen in order to be “eligible to the Office of President”.

3. Why do birthers think Barack Obama is not eligible to be President?

Birthers believe Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen and, for that reason alone, he is not eligible to serve as President. They say that, in order to be a natural born citizen, you must meet two requirements:

  • You must be born in the United States; and
  • Both of your parents must be U.S. citizens at the time of your birth.

According to birthers, it does not matter how your parents became U.S. citizens. They could have acquired citizenship at birth. They could have been immigrants who became citizens through naturalization. At one time in American history, a woman’s citizenship was that of her husband. A woman became a U.S. citizen automatically when she married a man who was already a U.S. citizen. For you to be a natural born citizen, your parents had to be citizens at the time of your birth, but they did not have to be natural born citizens.

There is some question as to whether President Obama meets the first requirement. Unsubstantiated rumors suggest he might have been born in Kenya (Affidavit of Reverend Kweli Shuhubia, Affidavit of Bishop Ron McRae, and Interview with Kenyan Ambassador).

But far more importantly, Obama publicly admits he does not meet the second requirement. His father was a British subject who never became a U.S. citizen. (FactCheck.org: Does Barack Obama have Kenyan citizenship?)

At the time of this writing, to the best of our knowledge and belief, Barack Obama has referred to himself as a native born citizen but has never publicly claimed to be a “natural born citizen”.

4. How is “natural born citizen” defined?

4.1 “Natural born citizen” is not defined in the Constitution or in any existing Federal law

The U.S. Constitution, and the Naturalization Acts of Massachusetts (1776-1790), use the term “natural born citizen” but do not define it.

So far, Congress has not passed any law that defines “natural born citizen”. In 1790, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790, which extended the meaning of “natural born citizen” to include the foreign-born children of U.S.-citizen parents:

And the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens (Naturalization Act of 1790)

Five years later, Congress repealed the 1790 Act and replaced it with the Naturalization Act of 1795. The wording of the 1795 Act was essentially the same as the 1790 Act, except that the term “natural born citizens” was deleted and replaced with “citizens”.

Thereafter, Congress has passed laws that convey American citizenship to certain people at birth, but Congress never again passed any law that explicitly clarified, defined or extended the meaning of natural born citizenship. Senate Bill S.2128 was supposed to define “natural born citizen”, but it was never enacted. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee in 2004, where it has remained ever since. In 2008, the Senate passed Resolution 511 regarding Presidential candidate John McCain’s natural born citizenship, but the resolution was nonbinding and had no legal effect.

4.2 A similar term, “natural-born Subject”, appeared in British Common Law

In 1736, Matthew Bacon defined “natural-born Subject” as:

All those are natural-born Subjects whose Parents, at the Time of their Birth, were under the actual Obedience of our King, and whose Place of Birth was within his dominions. (Page 77 in this 724-page (48MB) PDF file: Matthew Bacon, A New Abridgement of the Law, Vol 1, 1736).

The “parental obedience” requirement does not appear in later definitions of “natural-born Subject”.

In 1765, William Blackstone defined “natural-born Subject” as anyone born in British territory, regardless of the parents’ allegiance or citizenship. A child born in England, for example, was a natural-born subject, even if the child’s parents were aliens:

The children of aliens, born here in England, are, generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such. (Blackstone, Commentaries, 1765).

Sir Alexander Cockburn, Lord Chief Justice of England, leaves little doubt that, under British Common Law, a “natural-born Subject” was someone born in British territory, regardless of parental nationality:

By the common law of England, every person born within the dominions of the Crown, no matter whether of English or of foreign parents, and, in the latter case, whether the parents were settled or merely temporarily sojourning, in the country, was an English subject, save only the children of foreign ambassadors (who were excepted because their fathers carried their own nationality with them), or a child born to a foreigner during the hostile occupation of any part of the territories of England. No effect appears to have been given to descent as a source of nationality. (Alexander Cockburn, Nationality, 1869, page 7).

When the Constitution was written, British natural-born Subject status was determined by birthplace alone. If you were born in British territory, you were automatically a British natural-born Subject. The nationality or citizenship of your parents didn’t matter.

But did the same principle also apply to natural born citizen? If natural born Subject status was determined by birthplace alone, was natural born citizen status also determined by birthplace alone, without regard to parental citizenship?

4.3 “Natural born citizen” appeared in English-language Literature

In 1774, Patsall translated Institutio Oratoria from Latin to English. Patsall’s work might be the earliest English-language writing in which the term natural born citizen appears (What is a Natural Born Citizen of the United States?).

Institutio Oratoria is a twelve-volume classic written by Marcus Fabius Quintilianus during the first century AD. It contains this Latin sentence:

Quare, si fieri, potest et verba omnia et vox huius alumnum urbis oleant, ut oratio Romana plane videatur, non civitate donata. (Quintilianus, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, Chapter VIII)

Patsall translated this sentence as:

Therefore, if possible, every word and the very tone of voice, should bespeak the natural born citizen of Rome, that the language may be purely Roman, and not so by a right different from birth and education.

Other English translations of Institutio Oratoria, such as Guthrie’s translation in 1756, use “native” instead of “natural born citizen”.

In Patsall’s work, natural born citizen is an English rendering of alumnum urbis.

  • Alumnum means “nourished, brought up; reared/fostered by; native, brought up locally” (Latin-English Dictionary 1.97FC). It refers to a “child not born of the family, but brought up and educated as one’s own child” (Meaning of Alumni).
  • Urbis means “city”.

Thus alumnum urbis — the “natives” or “natural born citizens” of a city — are those who were not merely born in the city, but were raised or parented by the city — specifically, by residents or citizens of the city.

In 1797, an English translation of Emmerich de Vattel’s Law of Nations gave this definition of “natural born citizen”:

The natives, or natural born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. (Vattel, Law of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 19)

In both Patsall and Vattel, “natural born citizen” meant much more than someone who was born in a particular place. Parentage, upbringing and education also contributed to the meaning of “natural born citizen”.

4.4 “Natural born citizen” appeared in Supreme Court decisions

In 1874, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Vattel’s definition of “natural born citizen”:

At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first.

For the purposes of this case, it is not necessary to solve these doubts. It is sufficient, for everything we have now to consider, that all children, born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction, are themselves citizens (Minor v. Happersett, 1874)

The Supreme Court said, in effect:

  • There is no doubt that, if you were born in the United States and both of your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth, you are a natural born citizen.
  • Throughout American history, various “authorities” (judges, district attorneys, legal experts, etc.) have expressed support for the “citizenship-by-birthplace-alone” theory. According to this theory, U.S.-born children of non-citizen parents are citizens at birth and presumably natural born citizens as well.
  • The “citizenship-by-birthplace-alone” theory is unproven and remains subject to doubt.

In 1898, in the Wong Kim Ark case, the Supreme Court reexamined the “citizenship-by-birthplace-alone” theory, but did not decide whether it applied to natural born citizenship. The Court ruled that Mr. Ark was a citizen, but did not rule that he was a natural born citizen (SCOTUS in ‘Wong Kim Ark’).

To summarize, we know for sure that persons born in the U.S., of parents who are U.S. citizens, are definitely, without doubt, natural born citizens. So far, the Supreme Court has not decided whether natural born citizenship also includes U.S.-born children of non-citizen parents.

5. In a nutshell, what is the Obama eligibility controversy?

The following information comes directly from Barack Obama’s website:

When Barack Obama Jr. was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Kenya was a British colony, still part of the United Kingdom’s dwindling empire. As a Kenyan native, Barack Obama Sr. was a British subject whose citizenship status was governed by The British Nationality Act of 1948. That same act governed the status of Obama Sr.’s children. Since Sen. Obama has neither renounced his U.S. citizenship nor sworn an oath of allegiance to Kenya, his Kenyan citizenship automatically expired on Aug. 4, 1982. (FactCheck.org, as quoted in Obama’s “Fight the Smears” webpage regarding his birth certificate, emphasis added).

The main controversy boils down to this one question:

If Barack Obama Jr. was born in the United States but, at the time of his birth, his father was a citizen of a foreign country and not a U.S. citizen, does Barack Obama Jr. meet the Constitutional “natural born citizen” requirement for presidency?

Obama apologists say “Yes”. They believe there are only two kinds of American citizens: naturalized and natural born. A naturalized citizen is someone who becomes a citizen after his or her birth, through a legal process called “naturalization”. A natural born citizen is anyone who is a U.S. citizen at birth. Since President Obama was born in the United States and was consequently a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth, he is a natural born citizen, regardless of his parents’ citizenship.

Birthers say “No”. They believe that, when the Constitution was written, a “natural born citizen” was someone who was born in the United States and whose parents were both U.S. citizens at the time of his or her birth. You cannot be a Constitutional natural born citizen unless both of your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born. If you are not a Constitutional natural born citizen, you are not eligible to serve as President.

Thus we have two opposing viewpoints regarding the meaning of “natural born citizen”. Which one is correct? So far, the Supreme Court has not answered this question because, until now, there was no reason to. Now, the Supreme Court needs to do its job and answer the question.

6. Does the birthers’ viewpoint have any historical or legal merit?

Birthers believe that, in order to be a natural born citizen, you must be born in the United States and both of your parents, at the time of your birth, must be U.S. citizens. The birthers support their viewpoint with the following information:

  • Every U.S. President who was born after 1787 — except President Barack Obama and President Chester Arthur — was born in the United States, to parents who were both U.S. citizens. The general public did not learn until recently that, when Chester Arthur was born, his father was not a U.S. citizen. The 2008 election is the first time in American history that America knowingly elected a post-1787-born President whose parents were not both U.S. citizens.
  • When Chester Arthur ran for Vice President and later President, he told outright lies and burned historical records, to conceal the fact that, although he was born in the United States, his father was a British Subject and not a U.S. citizen at the time of his (President Arthur’s) birth. If “natural born citizen” means anyone born in the United States, regardless of parental citizenship, why did Chester Arthur go through so much trouble to convince the public that his parents were U.S. citizens when he was born? It is inconceivable that Chester Arthur would have taken such extraordinary measures, unless he believed that his birth to non-citizen parents made him ineligible to serve as VP or President (Historical Breakthrough — Chester Arthur)
  • On March 9, 1866, Representative John Bingham of Ohio, considered the father of the 14th Amendment, said the following in a speech before House of Representatives:

    [I] find no fault with the introductory clause [S 61 Bill], which is simply declaratory of what is written in the Constitution, that every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen. (John Bingham, 1866, as quoted in Defining Natural Born Citizen)

  • The Supreme Court has, on occasion, used the word “citizen” in reference to certain individuals who were either not born in the United States or not born of U.S.-citizen parents. Such individuals were citizens by law or by naturalization, but the Supreme Court has never referred to them as “natural born citizens”. In those few cases in which the Supreme Court has declared an individual to be a “natural born citizen”, the individual was always U.S.-born to U.S.-citizen parents. For example, in Perkins v. Elg (1939), Miss Elg was declared to be a natural born citizen. She was born in the United States and, when she was born, both of her parents were naturalized U.S. citizens.
  • In 1797 (a decade after the Constitution was adopted), the English translation of Emmerich de Vattel’s, Law of Nations was revised to include the term “natural born citizen”. The revised English translation helps to clarify the meaning of “natural born citizen”, as English-speaking people generally understood it towards the end of the 18th Century:

    The natives, or natural born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. … I say, that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country. (Vattel, Law of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 19)

  • In 1874, in the Minor v. Happersett case, the Supreme Court affirmed the definition of natural born citizen which had appeared in the 1797 English translation of Vattel’s Law of Nations:

    …it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first. (Minor v. Happersett, 1874)

  • In Minor v. Happersett, the Supreme Court expressed “doubts” regarding the citizenship of U.S.-born children whose parents were not U.S. citizens. In Wong Kim Ark, 1898, the Supreme Court examined these “doubts”, but did not render any decision or ruling pertaining to natural born citizenship. The Court ruled that Mr. Ark was a citizen; it did not rule that he was a natural born citizen. To date, the Supreme Court has never answered the question as to whether natural born citizenship extends to children of non-citizen parents.

These sources do not prove the birthers’ case. But they show that birthers have a rational basis for requesting a public inquiry into Barack Obama’s presidential eligibility.

7. What was the original purpose of the presidential “natural born citizen” requirement?

The presidential natural born citizenship requirement originated with John Jay, who recommended it in a letter to George Washington. The letter said:

Permit me to hint whether it would not be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of foreigners into the administration of our national government ; and to declare expressly that the command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on any but a natural born citizen. (John Jay letter to George Washington, 25 July 1787)

John Jay believed, and the Founding Fathers agreed, that anyone who is subject to foreign influence should be barred from the presidency. St. George Tucker (1752-1827) explained why:

That provision in the constitution which requires that the president shall be a native-born citizen (unless he were a citizen of the United States when the constitution was adopted) is a happy means of security against foreign influence, which, wherever it is capable of being exerted, is to be dreaded more than the plague. The admission of foreigners into our councils, consequently, cannot be too much guarded against… To have added a [foreign] member to this sacred family in America, would have invited and perpetuated among us all the evils of Pandora’s Box. (St. George Tucker, as quoted in Defining Natural-Born Citizen)

The Founding Fathers undoubtedly understood that natural born citizenship is acquired only at birth. Thus the presidential natural born citizenship provision was limited in scope. It could not protect the presidency from all possible forms of foreign intrusion. It could not exclude, from the presidency, people who had developed foreign sympathies or allegiances after their birth. At most, it could only bar, from the presidency, persons who were subject to foreign influence at birth — specifically, persons who were foreign citizens at birth or were, at birth, subject to the laws of a foreign country.

When the Constitution was written, there were only two ways that a child could acquire foreign citizenship at birth or fall under foreign legal jurisdiction at birth:

  • by being born in a foreign country; or
  • by being born of parents who were citizens of a foreign country.

At the time, the United States did not recognize dual citizenship. No one could become a U.S. citizen without completely renouncing all foreign allegiance.

Therefore, in 1787, if you were born in the United States and your parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth, you were, without doubt, completely free of foreign influence at birth — you were, without doubt, not a foreign citizen at birth and not subject to foreign legal jurisdiction at birth. On the other hand, if you were born outside of the United States or your parents were not U.S. citizens when you were born, you might have been, at birth, subject to foreign legal jurisdiction to some extent.

Thus the Founding Fathers undoubtedly understood that, in order for the presidential natural born citizen provision to be effective, the term “natural born citizen” had to mean “U.S.-born of U.S.-citizen parents”. Otherwise, the provision would not work in all cases. It would occasionally allow, into the Office of President, individuals who were foreign citizens at birth or subject to foreign legal jurisdiction at birth — the very kind of situation that the Founding Fathers had undoubtedly hoped to prevent, given their abhorrence of foreign influence in general.

8. What is the difference between a “Constitutional” and a “statutory” natural born citizen?

Constitutional natural born citizen” refers to the term “natural born citizen” when it appears in the Constitution or in a Constitution-related document such as a Supreme Court decision. It refers to the meaning of “natural born citizen” in the Constitution, whatever the Supreme Court ultimately decides such meaning to be.

Statutory natural born citizen” refers to someone who is deemed a “natural born citizen” as a result of a Federal or State law.

Currently, there is no Federal law that explicitly defines “natural born citizen” or explicitly conveys “natural born citizenship” to anyone. However, existing laws are sometimes understood or interpreted as conveying natural born citizenship to certain individuals at birth. At this point, we do not pass judgment on these understandings and interpretations. We merely say that, if someone is deemed to be a “natural born citizen” pursuant to a law or statute, we refer to such person as a “statutory natural born citizen”.

A statutory natural born citizen is not necessarily the same thing as a Constitutional natural born citizen. The U.S. State Department warns against confusing the two concepts:

…the fact that someone is a natural born citizen pursuant to a statute does not necessarily imply that he or she is such a citizen for Constitutional purposes (Top of page 9, in U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual — 7 FAM 1130)

If we were to define “natural born citizen” to mean anyone who is a “citizen at birth”, our definition of “natural born citizen” would be statutory because it would depend on the statute or law which defines “citizen at birth”. Under existing law, all children born in the United States (except the children of foreign diplomats) are “citizens at birth”. Therefore, under existing law, almost all children born in the U.S. — including children of illegal immigrants — could be regarded as statutory natural born citizens.

However, H.R.1940, also known as the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2007, would change the existing law so that it would no longer grant “citizenship at birth” to children of illegal immigrants. If Congress were to pass H.R.1940, it would alter the meaning of “citizen at birth”, and therefore would alter our statutory definition of natural born citizen. If H.R.1940 were enacted, the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants could no longer be regarded as statutory natural born citizens.

To summarize:

  • Statutory natural born citizen” is the meaning of “natural born citizen” when such meaning depends on a Federal or State law. As Federal and State laws change, the meaning of “statutory natural born citizen” changes accordingly.
  • Constitutional natural born citizen” is the meaning of “natural born citizen” as used in the Constitution.

If Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, he could be regarded as a statutory natural born citizen. But a statutory natural born citizen is not necessarily a Constitutional natural born citizen.

9. Wouldn’t the most recent modern-day statutory meaning of “natural born citizen” take precedence over the original Constitutional meaning?

Not necessarily. The only proper and legitimate means of changing the Constitution is the Constitutional Amendment process. Congress cannot change the Constitution by simply passing a law. Nor can the Constitution be changed by someone’s understanding or interpretation of an existing law.

Neither Congress nor society can change the meaning of the Constitution by redefining a word or term that the Constitution uses. As the U.S. State Department has warned (see question 8), we cannot assume that “natural born citizen” by modern-day statute or modern-day word usage is the same thing as “natural born citizen” in the Constitution.

10. If Obama is not a “Constitutional natural born citizen”, so what? Why should anyone care?

Understandably, some Americans question the wisdom of “enforcing the law” and “upholding the Constitution” when the specific requirement being upheld or enforced seems to be an antiquated technicality. As long as Barack Obama is doing his job as President, why should his parents’ citizenship matter? Obama was elected President, not his parents. His parents passed away many years ago, so how is their citizenship relevant? Is enforcing a parental citizenship requirement really worth the horrific political chaos and unimaginable governmental disruption that might result if Obama were found to be ineligible?

Birthers respond in this way… If the Constitution contains something that is no longer appropriate for modern-day society, the proper remedy is a Constitutional Amendment. If we want to be a nation that is ruled by law and the Constitution, we cannot just ignore a Constitutional requirement, merely because it is inconvenient or we think it doesn’t matter. If any one part of the Constitution doesn’t matter, why would any other part of the Constitution matter?

Many of our rights — free speech, freedom of religion, privacy, trial by jury, and so on — come from the Constitution. If we say it’s OK to ignore the Constitution regarding Obama’s eligibility, we open the door for someone else to say it’s OK to ignore the Constitution regarding issues which may directly affect our rights as citizens.

11. Why has every birther lawsuit been dismissed?

So far, every lawsuit challenging Obama’s presidential eligibility has been dismissed on a technicality — lack of standing, lack of jurisdiction, mootness, etc. So far, neither the Supreme Court nor any other court has considered, in an open hearing, the actual substance or merit of any of these cases. As of this writing, no court has ruled on whether or not Barack Obama is a Constitutional natural born citizen.

12. What is a 14th Amendment natural born citizen?

Some Obama apologists argue that the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, had implicitly redefined “natural born citizen”. They say that, under the new definition, Barack Obama qualifies as a natural born citizen.

The 14th Amendment citizenship clause states:

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.

The 14th Amendment was enacted at a time when citizenship was, to some extent, managed and controlled by individual states. Each state had its own citizenship laws. Anyone who became a citizen of a state immediately and automatically became a citizen of the United States.

The 14th Amendment defined a certain class of people, which we call the “14th Amendment Citizen” (14AC) class. This 14AC class consists of every person who is both (a) born or naturalized in the United States, and (b) subject to U.S. jurisdiction at the time of his or her birth or naturalization.

The 14th Amendment required every state to accept, as a citizen, anyone belonging to the 14AC class. Each state could grant or deny citizenship to non-14AC people. But the 14th Amendment prohibited any state from denying citizenship to 14AC-class members.

Even though the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment only mentions citizens and never mentions natural born citizens, Obama apologists argue that the 14th Amendment implicitly redefined “natural born citizen” to mean anyone who meets two requirements:

  • born in the United States, and
  • subject to U.S. jurisdiction at the time of his or her birth.

The argument goes as follows: Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, which was, in 1961, a part of the United States. Therefore he met the first requirement. His mother was a U.S. citizen; and his father, though not a U.S. citizen, was nevertheless in the United States legally. Since both of his parents were subject to U.S. law, Barack Obama himself was under U.S. jurisdiction at the time of his birth. Consequently the President meets both requirements of natural born citizenship, as redefined by the 14th Amendment.

This “14th Amendment natural born citizen” argument depends heavily on the meaning of “jurisdiction”, which is discussed next.

13. In the 14th Amendment, what does “jurisdiction” mean?

During the debates over the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause, both of its primary framers, Sen. Jacob Howard and Sen. Lyman Trumbull, made it clear that the word “jurisdiction”, as used in the 14th Amendment, means sole, complete, absolute, exclusive U.S. jurisdiction and the absence of any other jurisdiction or allegiance.

Sen. Lyman Trumbull: The provision is, that “all persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens.” That means “subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof.” What do we mean by “complete jurisdiction thereof?” Not owing allegiance to anybody else. That is what it means.Sen. Jacob Howard: [I] concur entirely with the honorable Senator from Illinois [Trumbull], in holding that the word “jurisdiction,” as here employed, ought to be construed so as to imply a full and complete jurisdiction on the part of the United States, coextensive in all respects with the constitutional power of the United States, whether exercised by Congress, by the executive, or by the judicial department; that is to say, the same jurisdiction in extent and quality as applies to every citizen of the United States now. (What ‘Subject to the Jurisdiction Thereof’ Really Means)

In 1884, the Supreme Court said:

The persons declared to be citizens are “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The evident meaning of these last words is not merely subject in some respect or degree to the jurisdiction of the United States, but completely subject to their political jurisdiction and owing them direct and immediate allegiance. And the words relate to the time of birth in the one case, as they do to the time of naturalization in the other. Persons not thus subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of birth cannot become so afterwards except by being naturalized… (Page 112 U. S. 101-102, Elk v. Wilkins, 1884)

Sole U.S. jurisdiction was a core requirement for 14th Amendment citizenship. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to emancipated slaves and their descendants, because they were, and have always been, under sole U.S. jurisdiction. Native Americans were subject to tribal jurisdiction and thus were not under sole U.S. jurisdiction. That’s why the 14th Amendment did not grant citizenship to American Indians, even though virtually all American Indians were born in the United States.

For sake of argument, if the 14th Amendment had redefined “natural born citizen” to mean anyone “born in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (where “jurisdiction” is understood to mean sole U.S. jurisdiction), Obama would still fail to meet the natural born citizen requirement. Here’s why…

On his web site, Obama claims that his father was a British subject and that, in 1961, the citizenship status of children of British subjects was “governed” (that’s Obama’s word) by the British Nationality Act of 1948. Thus Obama’s citizenship status, at birth, was “governed” by British law, in addition to U.S. law.

If Obama’s citizenship status at birth was “governed” by the laws of a foreign country, how could he, at birth, be subject to sole U.S. jurisdiction, which is an essential requirement for 14th Amendment citizenship?

14. Doesn’t the Wong Kim Ark decision make Obama a “natural born citizen”?

Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States sometime between 1868 and 1873. When he was born, his parents were Chinese immigrants and were permanent legal residents of the United States; but they were not U.S. citizens. In the Wong Kim Ark (1898) case, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Ark was a U.S. citizen, even though his parents were not.

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 parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile 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. (Page 169 U.S. 705, Wong Kim Ark, 1898)

The Wong Kim Ark case does not directly apply to Barack Obama’s presidential eligibility, for two reasons:

  • The Supreme Court did not rule that Mr. Ark was a natural born citizen. It merely ruled that he was a citizen. Even if Barack Obama’s circumstances at birth were identical to those of Mr. Ark, the Wong Kim Ark decision would, at most, only convey citizenship to the President. It would not convey natural born citizenship, which is what the President needs in order to be eligible to hold office (SCOTUS in ‘Wong Kim Ark’).
  • Mr. Ark was granted citizenship because, at the time of Mr. Ark’s birth, his parents had “permanent domicile and residence” in the United States and was “carrying on business” in the United States. President Obama’s father did not meet these conditions. He was not a permanent resident and he was not doing business in the U.S. He was merely visiting the U.S. temporarily, presumably on a student visa, for the purpose of getting an American education.

Obama apologists argue that the reasoning of the Wong Kim Ark decision, when carried to its logical conclusion, supports the viewpoint that natural born citizenship is determined by birthplace alone:

It thus clearly appears that by the law of England for the last three centuries, beginning before the settlement of this country, and continuing to the present day, aliens, while residing in the dominions possessed by the crown of England, were within the allegiance, the obedience, the faith or loyalty, the protection, the power, and the jurisdiction of the English sovereign; and therefore every child born in England of alien parents was a natural-born subject, unless the child of an ambassador or other diplomatic agent of a foreign state, or of an alien enemy in hostile occupation of the place where the child was born. The same rule was in force in all the English colonies upon this continent down to the time of the Declaration of Independence, and in the United States afterwards, and continued to prevail under the constitution as originally established. (Page 169 U. S. 658, Wong Kim Ark, 1898)

The Wong Kim Ark reasoning was based largely on the assumption that the “rule” of British Common Law “continued to prevail” under the Constitution. In its dissenting opinion, the minority in the Wong Kim Ark case argued that the majority’s assumption was factually incorrect. On this one point, the minority and majority disagreed, not over a matter of law, but over a matter of historical fact:

And it is this rule, pure and simple, which it is asserted determined citizenship of the United States during the entire period prior to the passage of the act of April 9, 1866, and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and governed the meaning of the words “citizen of the United States” and “natural-born citizen” used in the Constitution as originally framed and adopted. I submit that no such rule obtained during the period referred to, and that those words bore no such construction… (Page 169 U. S. 707, Wong Kim Ark, 1898)

According to the Federalist Blog, the minority in the Wong Kim Ark case was correct. As matter of American history, some States retained certain aspects of British Common Law for their own purposes, but overall, British Common Law did not “continue to prevail” at the Federal level (Why U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark Can Never Be Considered Settled Birthright Law; see also discussion of Wong Kim Ark in Amicus Curiae Brief in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld).

George Mason, called the “Father of the Bill of Rights” and considered one of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, is widely quoted as saying:

The common law of England is not the common law of these states. ( Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention, 19 June 1788)

In a recent speech to the Federalist Society, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia confirmed that British Common Law had little, if any, “control” in the USA after the USA gained its independence from Great Britain:

The common law is gone. The federal courts never applied the common law and even in the state courts it’s codified now. (Audio/Video: Justice Scalia speech, Nov 22, 2008)

Wong Kim Ark’s circumstances, though different from Barack Obama’s, were virtually identical to those of President Chester Arthur. Mr. Ark and President Arthur were born in the United States. When each was born, his parents were permanent legal residents of the United States, but were not U.S. citizens; the parents were, in both cases, citizens of a foreign country. Under the laws in effect at the time (prior to the Wong Kim Ark decision), neither Wong Kim Ark nor Chester Arthur was a U.S. citizen at birth.

The Wong Kim Ark decision was written by Justice Horace Gray. Justice Gray was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Chester Arthur. At the time, the general public did not know that, when Chester Arthur was born, his father was a British subject and not a U.S. citizen; therefore Arthur was not a U.S. citizen at birth under then-existing laws.

In Wrotnowski v. Bysiewicz, the plaintiff (Cort Wrotnowski) argued that the Wong Kim Ark decision was not based on an impartial objective reading of history and the law, but was designed to grant U.S. citizenship retroactively to Chester Arthur, so as to legitimize Chester Arthur’s presidency and thereby legitimize Horace Gray’s own appointment to the Supreme Court (Wrotnowski supplemental brief regarding Chester Arthur).

15. Doesn’t the Julia Lynch case show that Barack Obama is a “natural born citizen”?

Julia Lynch was born in New York in 1819. At the time of her birth, her parents were not U.S. citizens — they were Irish citizens visiting the United States. Shortly after Julia’s birth, the Lynch family returned to Ireland, where Julia remained until adulthood.

In the Lynch v Clarke (1844) case, the First Circuit Court (not the U.S. Supreme Court) ruled that Julia was a U.S. citizen at birth. In the opinion of Vice-Chancellor Lewis Halsey Sandford, the judge who presided over this case, there is “no doubt” that Julia Lynch was also a natural born citizen:

After an exhaustive examination of the law, the Vice-Chancellor said that he entertained no doubt that every person born in within the dominions and allegiances of the United States, whatever the situation of his parents, was a natural-born citizen; and added, that this was the general understanding of the legal profession, and the universal impression of the public mind. (pp 581-582, in Cases on Constitutional Law – Part 2)

An article in the New York Legal Observer elaborated:

The only standard which then existed, of a natural born citizen, was the rule of the common law, and no different standard has been adopted since. Suppose a person should be elected President who was native born, but of alien parents, could there be any reasonable doubt that he was eligible under the constitution? I think not. The position would be decisive in his favor that by the rule of the common law, in force when the constitution was adopted, he is a citizen.” (Dicta from Lynch v. Clarke (1844), cited by Article in New York Legal Observer).

Later in American history, the Opinion of Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates (1862) and the dissenting opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856), echoed the same viewpoint — that you are a U.S. citizen (and presumably a U.S. natural born citizen as well) if you were born in the United States, regardless of your parents’ citizenship.

Birther Response: Birthers do not deny that, throughout American history, various “authorities” (judges, attorney generals, legal experts, etc.) have expressed the opinion that birth within the United States is, by itself, sufficient to convey U.S. citizenship and perhaps natural born citizenship as well.

However, throughout history, other authorities have expressed the opinion that citizenship at birth properly belongs only to children whose parents are U.S. citizens. For example:

  • When we apply the term “citizens” to the inhabitants of States, it means those who are members of the political community. The civil law determined the condition of the son by that of the father. A man whose father was not a citizen was allowed to be a perpetual inhabitant, but not a citizen, unless citizenship was conferred on him. (Rep. A. Smyth (VA), House of Representatives, December 1820, as quoted in Defining Natural-Born Citizen)
  • As a man is a “citizen” of the country to which his father owes allegiance, it was incumbent on one alleging in an election contest that a voter was not a citizen of the United States to show that such voter’s father was not a citizen thereof during his son’s minority. (Savage v. Umphries (TX) 118 S. W. 893, 909, as quoted in Defining Natural-Born Citizen)

Thus we have an ongoing debate between (a) “authorities” who believe that natural born citizenship is determined by birthplace alone, and (b) “authorities” who believe that parental citizenship is a requirement for natural born citizenship. So far, the Supreme Court has not decided the issue, one way or the other. However, in 1874, the Supreme Court said there were “doubts” regarding the citizenship status of U.S.-born children of non-citizen parents:

…it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first. For the purposes of this case it is not necessary to solve these doubts.” (Minor v. Happersett, 1874)

The Supreme Court has yet to resolve these doubts.

British Common Law: Prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the thirteen colonies were under British rule and were governed by British Common Law. Under British Common Law, if you were born on British territory, you were automatically, at birth, a British natural-born Subject, even if your parents were aliens. This principle — that one’s citizenship is derived from one’s place of birth — is called jus soli (“the right of soil”):

The children of aliens, born here in England, are, generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such. In which the constitution of France differs from ours; for there, by their jus albinatus, if a child be born of foreign parents, it is an alien. (Blackstone, Commentaries, 1765).

When the thirteen colonies gained their independence and became States, they were no longer bound by the jus soli principle of British Common Law. Each State was free to enact its own birthright citizenship laws. When a state enacted its own laws, such laws replaced the citizenship provisions of British Common Law in that particular state.

For example, Virginia enacted this law, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1779:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that

  • all white persons born within the territory of this commonwealth and all who have resided therein two years next before the passing of this act, and all who shall hereafter migrate into the same; and shall before any court of record give satisfactory proof by their own oath or affirmation, that they intend to reside therein, and moreover shall give assurance of fidelity to the commonwealth; and
  • all infants wheresoever born, whose father, if living, or otherwise, whose mother was, a citizen at the time of their birth, or who migrate hither, their father, if living, or otherwise their mother becoming a citizen, or who migrate hither without father or mother,

shall be deemed citizens of this commonwealth, until they relinquish that character in manner as herein after expressed: And all others not being citizens of any the United States of America, shall be deemed aliens. (Thomas Jefferson, 1779, A Bill Declaring Who Shall Be Deemed Citizens of This Commonwealth, formatting and line spacing added for readability and clarity).

The Virginia law made citizenship available to all white people who were born in Virginia. If you were born in Virginia and you were not already a citizen, you could, in adulthood, become a citizen by taking an oath. But the Virginia law did not grant immediate and automatic citizenship, at birth, to every white baby born in Virginia. Under Virginia law, automatic citizenship at birth was controlled by the principle of jus sanguinis (“the right of blood”), whereby the citizenship of a child, at the moment of its birth, is the citizenship of its parents. (What ‘Subject to the Jurisdiction Thereof’ Really Means)

New York State law: New York State made a choice to retain the jus soli principle of British Common Law. Anyone born in New York was, at birth, automatically a citizen of New York, regardless of parental citizenship.

The Lynch v. Clarke (1844) case, and other cases such as Munro vs. Merchant (1858), were decided in accordance with British Common Law, not because British Common Law was the national law of the United States, but because it was the applicable State law in New York State. Under New York State law, Julia Lynch was a citizen at birth and therefore she was deemed to be a statutory natural born citizen.

Her natural born citizenship was “statutory” because it depended on the State law that was in effect in the State in which she was born. Had she been born in Virginia instead of New York State, she would not have been a U.S. citizen at birth, and she would not have been a statutory natural born citizen.

The fact that Julia Lynch was deemed to be a statutory natural born citizen in New York State does not necessarily mean that she was a Constitutional natural born citizen (see Question 8), especially since the Supreme Court has, so far, not decided whether Constitutional natural born citizenship extends to children of non-citizen parents.

16. Could “natural born citizen” be based on the British Common Law principle of jus soli?

Not likely, for two reasons:

First, if the British Common Law principle of jus soli (citizenship by birthplace alone) had been adopted at the national level, what would have been the point of granting each state the right to enact its own birthright citizenship laws?

After the Constitution was adopted, every State had the right to enact laws that deny citizenship at birth to some children born in that State, such as children of African or Native-American descent, and children whose parents were not U.S. citizens. How could the States have acquired or exercised such a right if the nation, as a whole, had embraced the doctrine that “everyone born in the U.S. is a U.S. citizen”? (Defining Natural Born Citizen).

Second, all States were unanimous in granting citizenship at birth to children who met both the jus soli criterion (they were born in the United States) and the jus sanguinis criterion (their parents were U.S. citizens). Some states routinely denied citizenship at birth to children who met only one of these criteria but not both.

A more inclusive definition of “natural born citizen” — which required either jus soli or jus sanguinis but not necessarily both — is unlikely because it would have included people whom some states were denying citizenship to. It is improbable that the Founding Fathers would have permitted states to deny citizenship to natural born citizens. More likely, “natural born citizen” referred to a class of people that all states were already recognizing as undeniable U.S. citizens.

U.S. citizenship is undeniable only in individuals who, at birth, meet both the jus soli and the jus sanguinis criteria. Consequently, the only plausible definition of an undeniable U.S. citizen is the birthers’ definition of “natural born citizen” — a U.S.-born individual whose parents are both U.S. citizens.

17. What’s the “beef” with President Obama’s birth certificate?

President Obama has published, on the internet, a digital photograph of a computer-generated short-form Certification of Life Birth. The President has not published a copy of his original 1961 typewritten long-form birth certificate containing the names and signatures of people who actually witnessed his birth.

In Hawaii, the contents of an original long-form birth certificate are private and confidential information, protected by State law. The Aloha State will not release a copy of an original birth certificate without permission. So far, President Obama has not given his permission for the release of his original long-form birth certificate.

If you were born in Hawaii and you ask for a copy of your Hawaiian birth certificate for a routine everyday purpose such as applying for a drivers license or passport, the State of Hawaii will not send you a copy of your original long-form birth certificate.

Instead, the State will send you a computer generated short-form Certification of Live Birth, which shows only minimal information — your name, date of birth, place of birth, name and race of each of your parents, and so forth. A Certification of Live Birth can be used, instead of an original long-form birth certificate, for most everyday purposes.

A Certification of Live Birth shows an individual’s birth information but does not show the source of that information. In Hawaii, the identity of the source of one’s birth information — whether it be a hospital, a doctor, or a parent’s or relative’s affidavit — is deemed to be private and confidential. Thus the name of a source is found only on an original long-form birth certificate, and is not found on a Certification of Live Birth.

Barack Obama’s Certification of Live Birth confirms two facts:

  • The State of Hawaii has, in its files, the President’s original 1961 typewritten long-form birth certificate; and
  • The President’s original 1961 birth certificate says he was born in Hawaii.

Birthers do not dispute either of these two facts. Birthers merely want to know the extent, if any, to which the information on Barack Obama’s original 1961 long-form birth certificate came from or was verified by someone other than an immediate family member.

18. Didn’t the State of Hawaii recently verify that President Obama was born in Hawaii?

On October 31, 2008, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Director of Health for the State of Hawaii, released this public statememnt regarding (then Senator) Barack Obama’s birth certificate:

There have been numerous requests for Sen. Barack Hussein Obama’s official birth certificate. State law (Hawai’i Revised Statutes 338-18) prohibits the release of a certified birth certificate to persons who do not have a tangible interest in the vital record.Therefore, I as Director of Health for the State of Hawai’i, along with the Registrar of Vital Statistics who has statutory authority to oversee and maintain these type of vital records, have personally seen and verified that the Hawai’i State Department of Health has Sen. Obama’s original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.

No state official, including Governor Linda Lingle, has ever instructed that this vital record be handled in a manner different from any other vital record in the possession of the State of Hawai’i. (Statement by Dr. Chiyome Fukino).

Dr. Fukino confirmed that Barack Obama’s original 1961 long-form Hawaiian birth certificate exists, and the Hawaii State Department of Health has possession of it. But she did not confirm or verify any information contained in the birth certificate itself.

Under Hawaii State law, the contents of a birth certificate are private and confidential. Consequently, Dr. Fukino could not legally disclose or confirm any information contained in Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that President Obama’s original Hawaiian birth certificate says he was born in Hawaii. Under the laws that were in effect in Hawaii when Barack Obama was born, the State of Hawaii would not have knowingly issued a Hawaiian birth certificate to anyone born outside of Hawaii.

Act 96 of Laws of the Territory of Hawaii was adopted in 1911. Under this Act, Hawaiian birth certificates were issued only to individuals who were believed to be born in Hawaii:

The Secretary of Hawaii may, whenever satisfied that any person was born within the Hawaiian Islands, cause to be issued to such person a certificate showing such fact. (pp 127-128, Laws of the Territory of Hawaii)

A subsequent law, enacted in 1955, reaffirmed the fact that Hawaiian birth certificates were given only to individuals who were believed to be Hawaii-born.

Under the 1955 law, the State of Hawaii could issue Hawaiian birth certificates in cases in which the birth was not independently confirmed by an attending physician or midwife. In such cases, a judicial or administrative body or official must determine the birth certificate’s probative value:

In 1961, if a person was born in Hawaii but not attended by a physician or mid wife, then, up to the first birthday of the child, an adult could, upon testimony, file a “Delayed Certificate”, which required endorsement on the Delayed Certificate of a summary statement of the evidence submitted in support of the acceptance for delayed filing, which evidence must be kept in a special permanent file. The statute provided that the probative value of the Delayed Certificate must be determined by the judicial or administrative body or official before whom the certificate is offered as evidence. (See Section 57-18, 19 & 20 of the Territorial Public Health Statistics Act in the 1955 Revised Laws of Hawaii which was in effect in 1961). (Hawaii Birth Records Law)

Hawaiian Statute 338-17.8, Certificates for children born out of State, allowed Hawaiian birth certificates to be issued to foreign-born children of Hawaii-resident parents. But Statute 338-17.8 was not enacted until 1982, well after Barack Obama was born.

In 1961, the State of Hawaii would not have issued a birth certificate to Barack Obama unless the State believed he was born in Hawaii. Barack Obama’s original 1961 typewritten birth certificate undoubtedly says he was born in Hawaii.

But questions still remain. When Barack Obama was born, was his birth attended by a doctor or midwife? If not, who testified regarding his birth? His mother? His grandmother? Were any of these people interviewed? Was there a judicial or administrative hearing to determine the birth certificate’s probative value? Who recorded the date and time of Barack Obama’s birth? Could his actual date of birth have been a week or two earlier?

Barack Obama’s birth in Hawaii cannot be regarded as “verified” until these questions are answered.

19. Doesn’t the mere existence of Barack Obama’s original Hawaiian birth certificate prove that he was born in Hawaii?

Barack Obama’s original Hawaiian birth certificate, by its mere existence, shows that the State of Hawaii believed he was born in Hawaii. His birth certificate would prove that he was born in Hawaii only if his birth in Hawaii was witnessed and confirmed by someone other than an immediate family member. For example:

  • If Barack Obama was born in a hospital in Hawaii, his birth certificate would indicate that a hospital had confirmed his birth in that hospital. Such confirmation would show, beyond reasonable doubt, that President Obama was born in Hawaii.
  • If Barack Obama was born at home, his birth certificate would show the name of the professional (presumably, a doctor, midwife or paramedic) who assisted with the delivery. The professional’s name and signature would confirm, and thus remove any reasonable doubt, that Obama’s birth took place in Hawaii.

But consider this hypothetical scenario: Suppose Stanley Ann Obama (President Obama’s mother) had been a resident of Hawaii since June 1960. Suppose that, in November or December 1960, upon learning of her pregnancy, she received prenatal care from a local doctor in Hawaii. Suppose that, on Monday August 7, 1961, she walked into her doctor’s office, carrying a recently-born baby in her arms. Suppose she told her doctor that the birth took place, suddenly and unexpectedly, on Friday evening, August 4, 1961. Suppose she said that, when she gave birth, no one else was present, except Madelyn Dunham, the baby’s maternal grandmother, who assisted with the delivery. Suppose the doctor examined this baby and found nothing that conclusively disproved Stanley Ann’s story.

Given the mother’s testimony, her history of prenatal care in Hawaii, her Hawaii residency, and the absence of contravening evidence from her doctor, the State of Hawaii would have probably issued a birth certificate for her baby, even though NO ONE outside of the baby’s immediate family had actually witnessed the baby’s birth in Hawaii.

The birth certificate would show no independent corroboration of the baby’s birth in Hawaii. The Hawaii State Department of Health officials would have believed that the baby was born in Hawaii because the mother had said so and they had no compelling reason to believe otherwise. But the birthplace indicated on the birth certificate would be based solely on the mother’s unsubstantiated testimony.

What if Stanley Ann and her recently-born baby had arrived, on an overseas flight, at Honolulu International Airport, on Sunday, August 6, 1961? In the absence of an original birth certificate, such theoretical possibilities, however implausible and far fetched, cannot be entirely ruled out.

Until President Obama releases an original birth certificate showing independent corroboration of his birth in Hawaii, no one can say for sure whether the President meets the first requirement of natural born citizenship — birth within the United States.

20. Do birthers actually believe that President Obama was born in a foreign country?

Birthers are divided over this issue. Some believe President Obama was born overseas. Others believe that, when the President’s birth certificate is released, it will show conclusively that he was born in Hawaii. Until the President’s original 1961 typewritten long-form birth certificate is published, no one can say for sure, one way or the other, where he was born.

Among the various attorneys and plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits challenging the President’s eligibility and/or seeking the release of his original long-form birth certificate, there is no consensus of opinion regarding the President’s actual place of birth.

  • Attorney Phil Berg believes the President was born in Kenya.
  • Attorney Leo Donofrio and Attorney Mario Apuzzo believe Barack Obama was probably born in Hawaii, but it doesn’t really matter. Regardless of where he was born, the President is ineligible because of his father’s foreign citizenship.
  • One-time adjunct law professor Andy Martin believes the President was almost certainly born in Hawaii. Neverlessless, Dr. Martin argues that the President’s birth certificate is an historical document and, for that reason, joins with birthers in seeking its release.

Despite widely differing opinions on the birthplace question, birthers are unanimous in advocating (a) the release of the President’s original 1961 long-form Hawaiian birth certificate, and (b) an open public judicial hearing regarding the President’s Constitutional eligibility.

21. If President Obama’s birth certificate shows conclusively that he was born in Hawaii, would it end the eligibility controversy?

Definitely not! President Obama has stated publicly that his father was not a U.S. citizen. According to the birthers’ understanding of history and law, if his father was not a U.S. citizen, President Obama cannot be a Constitutional natural born citizen, regardless of where he might have been born. If President Obama was born in Hawaii, he could be regarded as a statutory natural born citizen, but he would not necessarily be a Constitutional natural born citizen.

Regardless of what his birth certificate says, Obama’s presidential eligibility will never be settled or resolved, until the Supreme Court decides whether the U.S.-born children of non-U.S.-citizen parents are Constitutional natural born citizens.

22. Where do we go from here?

2008 was the first time in history that the United States knowingly elected a post-1787-born President whose parents were not both U.S. citizens at the time of his birth.

In Minor v. Happersett, 1874, the Supreme Court stated that there is a legitimate unanswered question, or “doubt”, as to whether a U.S.-born child of a non-citizen parent is a Constitutional natural born citizen. Until the Supreme Court answers this question, it is by no means “settled” that Barack Obama is Constitutionally eligible to be President of the United States.

The DC District Court has the authority to investigate the eligibility of a sitting President. The DC District Court received this authority from Congress when Congress passed the Federal Quo Warranto Statute in 1901 and revised it, in 1963, to its present form.

The Federal Quo Warranto Statute is thoroughly explained in this three-part series:

Quo Warranto — Part 1

Quo Warranto — Part 2

Quo Warranto — Part 3

A Quo Warranto inquiry is not a prosecution. It does not accuse Barack Obama of breaking any law. The inquiry is a civil proceeding, not a criminal one. In a Quo Warranto inquiry, the DC District Court would say to Barack Obama something to this effect (loosely paraphrased):

Mr. President, you are being asked to show, beyond reasonable doubt, that you are eligible to hold the office that you are currently holding. Please be advised: 1) You bear the burden of proof. It is up to you to show that you are eligible to serve as President. 2) Constitutional questions will be heard and settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. 3) This Quo Warranto proceeding has teeth. It operates under Congressional authority. If you cannot or will not show the Court, beyond reasonable doubt, that you are eligible to be President, this Court has the power and the authority to remove you from office.

The DC District Court would determine (by jury, if necessary) the relevant facts of the case — Obama’s birthplace, his parents’ citizenship, etc. The Supreme Court would then decide the Constitutional legal issues, such as what a Constitutional natural born citizen is and whether Barack Obama is such a citizen.

If you believe there is enough doubt about Obama’s eligibility to warrant a public inquiry, please consider writing, in your own words, a letter to the proper authorities, politely and respectfully asking them to bring (or permit a third party to bring) the matter before the DC District Court. Attorney Leo Donofrio suggests writing to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, since the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor has resigned.

By writing, you would show that (a) you care about the Constitution, (b) you believe there are reasonable doubts about the President’s Constitutional eligibility, and (c) faithfulness to the Constitution requires a proper and timely investigation and resolution of these doubts.

Copyright © 2009 Stephen Tonchen
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  1. rumpolsky
    June 20, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    Good effort at an objective statement of the issues, but you’ve made some elementary errors in legal reasoning.

    I’d start by pointing this out; you wrote:

    A Quo Warranto inquiry is not a prosecution. It does not accuse Barack Obama of breaking any law. The inquiry is a civil proceeding, not a criminal one. In a Quo Warranto inquiry, the DC District Court would say to Barack Obama something to this effect (loosely paraphrased):

    Mr. President, you are being asked to show, beyond reasonable doubt, that you are eligible to hold the office that you are currently holding.

    The standard of proof in a civil action, including quo warranto, is “by a preponderence of evidence”, not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The reasonable doubt standard applies only to criminal cases.

    So a writ of quo warranto, if issued, would only ask the respondent to prove their claim to the office held by a preponderence of evidence.

    I think your discussion of the standards for issuance of a Hawaiian birth certificate make it clear that the Hawaiian short form, which confirms the existence of a long form certificate indicating Obama’s birth, would clearly meet that standard– especially given the reality that “preponderence” means that which outweighs or overcomes any contravening evidence. Since there is no “evidence” that Obama was born outside Hawaii — only speculation — the production of the short form certification would suffice.

  2. June 20, 2009 at 5:11 PM

    Quote above response…
    *******************

    Thank you for your response–hopefully you have taken care to also send your response to the actual author of the article, as the article was merely posted here for informational purposed for passers by to see.

    Of course the author very likely will not just happen by here to see your response.
    Since you refer to “you” and “you’ve” vice the author I point this out as we wouldn’t want anyone to think that you are aware very well that the author will not see your response and be able to respond.
    Hmmm…

  3. zevonsky
    June 21, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    This article splits hairs to support the assertion that the Supreme Court has recognized a distinction between “natural born citizens” and citizens by birth. An honest and contextual reading of Supreme Court precedent, however, suggests otherwise.

    For example, in Minor v. Happersett, the Supreme Court makes a distinction between two categories of citizens: (1) citizens by birth and (2) naturalized citizens. No third category is mentioned. This is important, because the Court explicitly connects the term “natural born citizen” – as used in Article II – with citizenship by birth:

    Additions might always be made to the citizenship of the United States in two ways: first, by birth, and second, by naturalization. This is apparent from the Constitution itself, for it provides that “no person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President,” and that Congress shall have power “to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” Thus new citizens may be born or they may be created by naturalization.

    - Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 167 (1875)

    The article also cites to portions of the following passge from Minor v. Happersett in support of the argument that “natural born citizen” means a citizen by birth with two citizen parents:

    The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first. For the purposes of this case it is not necessary to solve these doubts. It is sufficient for everything we have now to consider that all children born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction are themselves citizens.

    Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 167-68 (1875)

    What is critical here is the Supreme Court is considering “natural born citizen” in terms of CITIZENSHIP in the same opinion where it is also discussed in terms of presidential ELIGIBILITY – without making a distinction. Thus, we can intuit that the definition of “natural born citizen” with regard to citizenship and presidential eligibilty is essentially the same. Equally important, the Court makes no distinction between “natural born citizen” and a citizen by birth. (In fact, it contrasts “natural born citizens,” or “natives,” with “aliens” and “foreigners” – as opposed to other citizens by birth.) With respect to the scope of citizenship by birth, the court merely holds that children born of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil are themselves citizens – and leaves the question of citizenship by birth on U.S. soil to non-citizen parents for another day.

    That day came in Wong Kim Ark – and the Court held that citizenship by birth extends to those born on U.S. soil to non-U.S. citizens:

    To hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries, would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German or other European parentage, who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.

    - United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 694 (1898)

    The fact, therefore, that acts of Congress or treaties have not permitted Chinese persons born out of this country to become citizens by naturalization, cannot exclude Chinese persons born in this country from the operation of the broad and clear words of the Constitution, “All persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of te United States.”

    - United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 704 (U.S. 1898)

    Taken together, Minor v. Happersett and Wong Kim Ark demonstrate several important points: (1) the U.S. Supreme Court views “natural born citizen” and citizen by birth to be coextensive; (2) “natural born citizen” has the same meaning with regard to citizenship as it does with eligibity to serve as President of the United States; and (3) citizenship by birth includes all persons born on U.S. soil and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, regardless of the citizenship of one’s parents.

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