Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama Natural Born Citizenship Qualification

There has been a lively discussion over at Jeffrey Sykes’ Facebook page about the Obama citizenship question. Jeffrey wanted to know whether any of his readers actually knew personally any other people (especially Republicans) who did not think Obama was born in Hawaii and did not thereby meet the Constitutional qualifications to be President. Polls say that such people exist, but Jeffrey (a Republican) doesn’t know any. I don’t know any either. Do you know any?

Jeffrey thinks (rightly I believe) that the issue is a distraction from the much more important issues which we all face.

As for myself I am quite satisfied that Obama was born in Hawaii and meets all constitutional qualifications to be President. I do not believe for a minute that the posted copy of the certified birth certificate is a forgery.

I do think however that Obama should take the initiative and release a scanned copy of the original birth certificate. As far as I can ascertain (based on what I have read and on my own experience) the “certified” copy is an official document certified to be true to the original. Original birth certificates around the time Obama and I were born were often messy affairs with semi illegible writing and more information than is needed for a legal certified copy. If I am correct about this then it interests me why Obama does not allow release of a copy of that document.

OK, I realize that some people hell bent on being a pain in the neck will say it’s a forgery; I just think the number of people who have nagging concerns would go way down.

So the question of why Obama won’t call for a release of a copy of the actual original birth certificate interests me. It must be either that he thinks the ongoing issue works in his favor, or that he has concerns about some of the other information on the original certificate.

All this gets me to my real point. I think the “natural born citizen” requirement in the Constitution needs amending, again. First, it is vague on the surface of it. After two amendments and several Supreme Court cases it is still unclear exactly what it meant or means. Second, its original purpose seems dated. Do we really think for example that a person who moved to Ohio as a child from Poland is going to be a Polish spy or more or less likely to uphold/undermine the Constitution than a person born in Ohio to Polish parents on the same date? Do we think that a child born to an American citizen living briefly in England is more or less likely to uphold/undermine the Constitution than an older or younger sibling born in the United States or in a US territory or at a US military base?

My third daughter was born in Vancouver. That makes her a natural born Canadian citizen. She also was granted U.S. citizenship by virtue of the fact that she was born to an American citizen. But she does not meet the qualifications to become President. Laurel would make a great President, at least as good as any of her two older or two younger sisters – all born in the US.

I think that there should be a citizenship requirement, an age requirement and a significant residency requirement. I think we should get rid of the “born citizen” requirement altogether. Again, a citizenship requirement, an age requirement and a significant residency requirement should be enough.

And then there is another matter: no current statute as far as I know specifies what kind of documentation is required to meet whatever birth or citizenship requirements that are there. If we keep things as they are in terms of that article of the Constitution at least there needs to be a uniform documentation requirement.

Well, that’s what I think anyway


Becca said...

The reason Obama does not post the "certified," often referred to in this debate as the "long form" certificate is because Hawaii does not offer reproductions of those to anyone. They are on file with their registrar and Hawaii's policy is only to produce the short, yet no less certified form. The state verifies short forms to be sufficient proof of birth. I suppose Obama could take their offices by storm and hunt down the original long form if he wanted to but, well, that would be a real abuse of power. I don't know if you are assuming that he should still have a copy from the time of his birth but those things do get lost on occasion. I know I only have a photocopy myself.

Joel said...

Becca, I believe that Hawaii like other states will release a copy of the actual original certificate if the person asking for it is the person on the certificate. There are cases when the "certified" document is not enough. If the original copy is lost then they can say so. It happens. Does your home state not have the original on file from which your copy was made?

jhs said...

Nice post Joel. I think conservatives need to tackle this issue head on and put it to rest.


Igor said...

bama still not find vault birth certificate

He go back to Hawaii for 5 day but only have time to visit sick grandmother for hour
and still find no paper. Media too busy to help. They have important thing to do like
find out if Joe Plumber in union or lie about health care.

Therefore, I Igor produce Obama Birth Certificate at

Ged Maheux said...

I don't think the 14th Amendment to the Constitution is vague at all when it comes to citizenship. The first sentence pretty much defines it perfectly, at least in Obama's case. It says, and I quote:

"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."

All persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States.

Done and done.

Joel said...


The issue regarding the presidency wasn't (when the constitution was written, or when the 14th amendment was written) and isn't one of citizenship. The issue is the unique and special requirement of being a "natural born citizen" which is but one type of citizen. My third daughter was born in Vancouver. According to current statutes by virtue of her being born to an american citizen she was considered a citizen from the get go (even though we had to file papers etc). But she was not and is not a "natural born citizen." Thus she cannot be President. Thew whole question is surprisingly ambiguous and confusing, and the more I read the section of the constitution about the presidency the more confusing it gets! The Founding Fathers were almost mute on the subject, as if the whole thing were obvious to them (and lost to us).

BruceA said...

Joel -

But she was not and is not a "natural born citizen."

That's not accurate. Congress clarified this in the Naturalization Act of 1790, declaring that children of U.S. citizens are natural born citizens regardless of where they are born.

Joel said...

Five years later congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1795 which removed the language of "natural born." According to Wikipedia:

the Naturalization Act of 1795 says only that foreign-born children of American parents "shall be considered as citizens of the United States."

There remains no clear and concise definition of "natural born citizen" apart from the general idea of being physically born in the USA (and its territories and bases). Being a citizen at birth is not the same as being a natural born citizen either. Sounds crazy. It is crazy.

Anonymous said...

I understand where you are coming from, however, I totally disagree with your analysis.

I believe you have interpreted the Constitution correctly, she is not a NBC and therefore cannot ever be POTUS. I also understand that you feel she would make a good POTUS, just as good as her siblings who are NBC...but the NBC requirement was put in the Constitution for a VERY good reason - one which should be closely and rigerously adhered to.

While your daughter may have no loyalties or allegiences to Canada she was born with Canadian citizenship. Personally, I don't believe this should be excused because of other issues that such an excuse could open the gates for.

The Founders were wise in their trying to guard against outside foreign influence upon this nation by the Highest Office in the world. While we can never know for sure what is in a person's heart regarding allegience/loyalty - there has to be barriers in place to TRY and guard against foreign influence.

Therefore, I unfortunely disagree - there should be NO amendment to the requirement - perhaps clarification for those that do not understand what it means would help though.

Joel said...


Unfortunately we do not KNOW what the very good reason was for the NBC clause. Not only that, we don't even know what NBC means in that paragraph of the Constitution. Here it is again. The part before the semi colon is indecipherable:

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.

I have made my living doing exegesis of often difficult passages. There does not exist anybody who can explain the meaning of this text to those who don't understand because nobody understands it, nobody can understand it - it is not understandable as written and the Founders left us precious little commentary to help.

So, we neither know what the good reason was nor what the thing even means.

You may much prefer the principle of NBC that you have articulated, and it is your right to argue for that principle and against what I propose. But you do not even know what the original intent or the plain meaning of the text is, so all you can really affirm is your current opinion or preference.

If you do have some special insight into the meaning of the passage such that you can explain it to the rest of the human race, you should by all means write a book and get published in all the constitutional law journals.