Opinion: President Obama closes one ‘birther’ chapter. Will another open?


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By releasing a photocopy of his long-form birth certificate, President Obama is putting the ‘birther’ movement to the test. Are they really motivated by concerns about the Constitution, or was this all about Barack Obama?

If they’re really driven by long-term concerns, birthers will continue to press for state laws that require candidates to prove their citizenship to gain a place on the ballot. The fundamental flaw with that approach is that the eligibility of candidates for president and Congress is a federal issue, not one for state election officials.


But I think the true focus of the birthers is Obama and Obama alone. The proof will come when birthers argue that the birth certificate proves nothing (just as the certificate of live birth he released long ago proved nothing) and that the real issue is Obama’s Kenyan father. See the comments on this post for more of this line of reasoning. It boils down to focusing on the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born in and ‘subject to the jurisdiction of’ the United States. Because Obama’s father was Kenyan, Obama didn’t meet the ‘subject to the jurisdiction of’ standard. (Never mind that his mother was from Kansas -- she was just his mother.)

That’s a losing argument, at least as far as the historical record is concerned. According to the Supreme Court (in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark), the clause in question exempts only the children of diplomats posted in the U.S. That makes sense intuitively -- if a Canadian citizen runs a red light in Los Angeles, can he refuse to pay the ticket on the grounds that he’s not an American? Of course not; he’s subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement and its courts regardless of where he got his passport. The Senate debate over the 14th Amendment, which explicitly addressed how the amendment would grant citizenship to the children of Chinese laborers in America, also indicated that it was meant to have a broad reach.

There’s long been a ‘sore loser’ faction in American politics that mounts endless challenges to the legitimacy of elections, legislative decisions and court rulings simply because its members don’t like the outcome. There have been many such factions over the years on the right and on the left -- often at the same time. The endless questioning of Obama’s eligibility to be president strikes me as an iteration of this. And had the presidency been won by John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, we probably still would have seen the rise of a ‘birther’ movement -- albeit made up of an entirely different set of sore losers.


We have met the birthers, and the birthers are us

White House calls continued ‘birther’ talk a distraction

As campaign heats up, so does focus on ‘birthers’


Document: Obama’s long-form birth certificate

Document: Obama’s short-form birth certificate

Document: Obama’s birth certificate request

-- Jon Healey