I can remember it clearly. I was watching CNN. It was 11 PM, November 4, 2008. Wolf Blitzer was on the screen when the giant graphic appeared calling Barack Obama our next President. I heaved a great sign of relief never realizing at that moment the Constitution had changed. The realization was slow in coming, but at least on some of the web sites that Obama Conspiracy Theories covers, it was well known. What had happened? The definition of “natural born citizen” had changed.
I’ve been reading this marvelous article from the Boston University Law Review by Sarah Helene Duggin and Mary Beth Collins. While written in 2005, you might think it was written only yesterday when it says:
Any of the many birthright citizens whose natural born status is unclear, however, could become entangled in a battle over the meaning of the natural born citizenship clause in a variety of ways. Early in the Presidential selection process, for example, media coverage of a prospective candidate’s origins could trigger a national controversy over constitutional qualifications. A public credentials contest could, in turn, cause the candidate to withdraw from the race, or persuade supporters that backing the candidate would be too risky. Alternatively, vigorous public debate might result in a popular consensus that birthright citizenship should suffice for the Presidency, regardless of the precise meaning of Article II. A popular consensus could persuade state election officials to include a Presidential hopeful’s name on an election ballot, despite questionable natural born citizenship credentials, and it might dissuade potential challengers from initiating a legal action contesting the eligibility of the candidate to serve as President. Given the nature of present-day political battles, however, it is hard to imagine that competitors would pull any punches in a Presidential contest.
Nor would winning the Democratic or Republican nomination necessarily insulate a Presidential candidate from legal action or convince a disappointed rival to abandon the quest for the Presidency. Moreover, as long as the constitutional standard remains ambiguous, the risk of contentious legal disputes will linger, even in the midst of a national emergency.
‘NATURAL BORN’ IN THE USA: THE STRIKING UNFAIRNESS AND DANGEROUS AMBIGUITY OF THE CONSTITUTION’S PRESIDENTIAL QUALIFICATIONS CLAUSE AND WHY WE NEED TO FIX IT Boston University Law Review, February 2005.
And then the article brings up complications over “standing” should someone try to bring a lawsuit over eligibility, the difficulties involved should the Supreme Court take on the case and even scenarios where the House of Representatives wrestled with the possibility of failing to qualify a popularly elected candidate.
Wow! You might think this describes exactly where we are today, but you would be wrong because what the authors mean by “birthright citizens” are those who are citizens from birth, born in the United States and in US Territories (the latter face ambiguity). Our President-Elect was born in the United States proper. That article goes on to say:
United States citizens born to parents subject to United States jurisdiction in one of the fifty states are unquestionably natural born citizens…
As the foregoing discussion demonstrates, however, even an individual who is indisputably a natural born American can also be a dual national. The Constitution does not bar dual nationals from becoming President, and, in recent years, United States nationality law has become increasingly tolerant of multiple citizenship, thereby increasing the possibility that a dual national will become President.
According to a CNN report:
“The law has always been understood to be, if you are born here, you’re a natural born citizen,” said Thomas Goldstein, founder of the Scotusblog.com Web site and a lawyer who has argued numerous cases before the high court.
Anyway, that was how it was at 10:59 on November 4, 2008. As soon as the black guy with the funny name walked in the door, it all changed. Now everybody knows. And not only did it change for us, but it changed retroactively so that now everybody knew this in 1776 and knew it in 1880, that to be a natural born citizen (which even has its own acronym, NBC) one must be born in the United States, and BOTH parents must also be citizens. This Constitutional amendment was passed unanimously by the anti-Obama blogosphere and there it is.