One central point seems to be missing from the national conversation about impeaching President Obama for alleged violations of the Constitution.
When Obama was first proposed as a presidential candidate in 2007, the nation failed to have a meaningful debate concerning the serious constitutional issue of electing someone whose father was not a U.S. citizen.
According to correspondence from the original framers of the Constitution as well as Supreme Court rulings, the legal writings that helped establish the principles of the Constitution and even a Senate resolution affirmed by Obama himself, Obama likely does not qualify for the constitutional requirement that stipulates only a “natural born” citizen can serve as U.S. president.
In other words, Obama’s very presidency could itself be unconstitutional. And the matter has nothing to do with where the president was born.
The nation’s failure to explore the constitutional problems inherent in Obama’s candidacy coupled with the failure of the legislative and judicial branches to conduct an investigation into the matter may have set the stage for the president’s future disregard for the supreme law of the United States.
Obama, according to the official narrative, was born Aug. 4, 1961, to Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr.
Dunham was an American citizen of predominantly English descent from Wichita, Kansas, and was 18 years old at the time of Obama’s birth.
Obama Sr. was a member of the Luo tribe from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya, which at the time was still a British colony.
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution spells out presidential eligibility, requiring the nation’s elected chief to be a “natural born citizen.”
The clause 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.”
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution specifically defines “citizen” but not “natural-born citizen.”
A citizen is defined as: “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.”
However, no definition of “natural born citizen” – terminology only used in the presidential requirement clause – was provided anywhere in the Constitution. To this day, the precise meaning of the term is still being debated.
There are no records of any definitive discussion on the matter during the Constitutional Convention. That – coupled with the absence of definitive Supreme Court rulings and a wide array of opinions throughout the centuries – has only further confused the question of what “natural born” actually means.
Still, according to some of the most authoritative sources, including the framers of the Constitution as well as Supreme Court rulings, Obama does not meet the eligibility requirements.
‘Natural born’ defined
On July 25, 1787, John Jay, one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, wrote to George Washington, who was at the time presiding over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
Jay discussed the concern of dual-loyalty of the president, writing: “Permit me to hint, whether it would 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 Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.”
Jay, however, also did not define “natural born.”
Rep. John Bingham, R-Ohio, a principal framer of the 14th Amendment, offered some definition for presidential qualifications in a discussion in the House on March 9, 1866: “[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.”
In other words, according to Bingham, Obama would not be eligible to serve as president, since his father owed allegiance to a foreign sovereignty and even worked for the government of Kenya.
The first U.S. Congress passed a law that began to define “natural born.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 rejected the condition of being born on U.S. soil and referred only to parentage: “The children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States,” the Act states, “shall be considered as natural born citizens: Provided, that the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States.”
Five years later, however, Congress repealed the act.
Still, it was clear that the intent of the Constitution’s “natural born citizen” qualification was to ensure the country would not be led by an individual with dual loyalties owing to parentage.
To try to understand what the Founding Fathers meant by “natural born,” some have turned to prominent legal tomes of the day.
The Law of Nations, a 1758 work by Swiss legal philosopher Emmerich de Vattel, was read by many of the American founders and informed their understanding of the principles of law, which became established in the Constitution of 1787.
De Vattel writes in Book 1, Chapter 19, of his treatise: “The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. … 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.”
So by Vattel’s standards, Obama arguably would not be eligible to serve as president.
Supreme Court casts doubt
Numerous Supreme Court decisions have yielded conflicting views of citizenship and what it means to be a “natural born citizen.” In Dred Scott v. Sandford, in 1857, for example, the court ruled that citizenship is acquired by place of birth, not through blood or lineage.
But much of that decision – which had notoriously excluded slaves and their descendants from possessing constitutional rights – was overturned in 1868.
Another case, Minor v. Happersett, in 1874, mentions the “natural born” issue.
“At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the constitution were familiar,” the decision states, “it was never doubted that all children born in a country, of parents [plural] who were its citizens [plural], 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.”
According to this definition, and scores of other Supreme Court rulings, Obama may not be eligible to serve as president.
Obama affirms disqualifying definition
While Congress did not formally address Obama’s eligible issued, it did question the “natural born” qualifications of Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain. The Senate, which included Obama, ultimately passed a resolution that seems to define the term as one who is born to two U.S. citizens.
The scion of distinguished U.S. naval officers, McCain was born to two American parents in the Panama Canal Zone.
On April 30, 2008, the U.S. Senate sought to answer the question by passing a nonbinding resolution that states, “Whereas John Sidney McCain, III, was born to American citizens on an American military base in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936: Now, therefore, be it resolved, that John Sidney McCain, III, is a ‘natural born citizen’ under Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States.”