Friday, February 03, 2012

Answering a religious birther's mad spoutings

I was reminded that Birthers still exist, and they occasionally spout silly statements about the eligibility of President Obama to actually be POTUS. I was reminded of this when reading an entry from Dispatches from the Culture Wars. I'm going to use the same blockquote of the interview transcript from Titus that was used there (important parts in bolded by me):
Titus: What’s important is to realize that being a natural born citizen is based upon the law of nature. Any natural law is based on a law of nature which is revealed by God. And the notion is that no one is accidentally born in any particular nation to any particular parent. You’re not born by accident, you’re born by design. And who’s the designer? Well, God’s the designer. So if you’re born of two parents, that is a mother and father, who are of the same citizenship, then you have been ordained by God to be a citizen of the nation of your parents. That’s why he’s a natural born citizen. So, there’s a design in this that goes all the way back to scriptural principles.

Schneider: Dr. Titus, when this issue has come up time and time again to either the president or his press secretary, they are now referring to the long-form birth certificate that they released in 2011. In your opinion, does the presentation of this long-form certificate, as they have given it and said, ‘See, there’s the evidence,’ in your opinion does this satisfy the matter?

Titus: Well, I think it does if your definition of natural born citizen is that the parents have to be citizens of the United States. Because the form that was produced by the Obama administration indicates that his father was not an American citizen. Where people said, where race usually you put ‘black’ but it has ‘African.’ Well, it shows that he had a national citizenship that was not the United States. So, you don’t need anything more than the evidence that’s already been furnished by the Obama administration themselves. You don’t have to go behind it, you don’t have to determine whether it’s a fraudulent certificate. It says it on its face.

Titus: The people have a responsibility here to make sure that the Constitution is followed as it is written. I mean, if people don’t like the natural born citizen requirement, then they can amend the Constitution. I think in this particular case, it demonstrates why the natural born citizen requirement is so important, because I think this president does have a divided loyalty. I think he is more loyal to his African father than he is to the American nation, and I think that’s been well-documented.
Ed - and the commentators there - did a good job of debunking (and mocking) these claims. However, no commentator actually pointed to the US Code that says what accounts for being a citizen at birth. The US Code is "a compilation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States." Titus (and all Americans who want to know about what the law actually is) should go to United States Code TITLE 8 > CHAPTER 12 > SUBCHAPTER III > Part I > § 1401, which deals with: “NATIONALS AND CITIZENS OF UNITED STATES AT BIRTH”

Obama fits the requirements for “Citizen of the US at birth” under category (A): “a person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” He was born in Hawaii, which meets the requirement.

If you don’t believe (for whatever silly reason) that he was born in the United States or a US outlying possession (hello Titus and other birthers!), then he is still Citizen of the US at birth under category (G): “(g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years” His mother was a citizen of the US. She was living in the US for a continuous period of MORE than two years – all of which were after attaining the age of 14 – before she would have gone to Kenya or somewhere else to give birth to her son. (NOTE: According to commentator "slc1", the US Code changed after Obama was born. It was previously a 5-year requirement, and this got changed to the 2-year requirement that I quote above. However, I can't find a version of the US Code that was in force in 1961 - when Obama was born - and the Office of the Law Revision Council's website on "Prior U.S. Code" only goes back to 1988.)

The only way that President Obama couldn’t be Citizen of the US at birth is if he wasn’t born in Hawaii (which he was) AND his mother wasn’t actually Ann Dunham (which she was) OR that Ann Dunham didn’t live for a total of two years in the United States after reaching 14 years of age and before she gave birth to Barack Obama (which would have been a trick for her to have all the US university education that she finished when Barack was born). In other words, the argument against President Obama being a Citizen of the United States at birth are logically warrantless.

Yes, yes, I know that “Citizen of the United States at birth” is not the same thing as “natural born citizen,” but it’s the closest thing that matches and it’s the thing that was used to justify George Romney’s citizenship requirement as well as John McCain’s citizenship requirement. (Both of these white Republican presidential candidates were born outside of the United States – Romney in Mexico and McCain in the Panama Canal Zone.) [UPDATE: An anonymous commentator below pointed me to an entry at Tan Horizons that shows the Wong v Ark case as an example "that the majority opinion in Wong did in fact bring up Article II section 1, and that 19th century judges tended to use “natural-born” and “native-born” interchangeably."]

Furthermore, since the US Code is the codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States, it is the closest legal definition for "natural born citizen" that we have. For people who argue against this point (saying, for example that it's not the Constitution), I would just say that - following their logic - most (if not all) of the US Code isn't in the Constitution, and therefore, arguments they might make about federal regulation over things like drugs (under Title 21), labor (under Title 29), phones (under Title 47), and other things that the founding fathers didn't conceive of are similarly invalid under their argumentation.

Additionally, contrary to Titus' argument that "natural law" requires that both parents need to be of the same citizenship, we have had presidents whose one parent wasn’t an American citizen: Thomas Jefferson (English mother), James Buchanan (Irish father), Chester Arthur (Irish father), Woodrow Wilson (English mother) and Herbert Hoover (Canadian mother). Therefore, Titus’ argument of “if you’re born of two parents, that is a mother and father, who are of the same citizenship, then you have been ordained by God to be a citizen of the nation of your parents” is historically unfounded. Maybe, though, Titus is really annoyed that Jefferson, Buchanan, Arthur, Wilson, and Hoover were allowed to be president, after all, he is saying that his definition of "natural born citizen" means that both parents need to be American.

We’ve even had a president with two immigrant parents: Andrew Jackson (which also goes against Titus' position that both parents need to be American).

Of course, Titus is using a Christian definition of "natural law"; which is something that I don't understand, since it deals mostly with metaphysical (i.e., NOT natural) things, and actually has changed a lot over time. However, someone should point out to him that Christianist natural law and the natural law of American jurisprudence aren't the same thing! With that in mind, the Christianist natural law definition has as much justifiable use in this argumentation as claiming that "natural born citizen" means a citizen that was parturated using natural childbirth, which would mean that the founding fathers actually didn't want anyone born via c-section.

Obviously, this meaning of "natural born citizen" is not what the founding fathers meant, but if Titus is going to misappropriate the term "natural" to fit his biases, then why not put forward something that holds just as well (i.e., only to a strained reading of the definition). What the founding fathers arguably argued for under "natural law" and a "Nature's God" that is akin to Spinoza's god, since Jefferson's writings do seem to align with Spinoza's. As written in "Negri on Spinoza":
Before starting to discuss Negri on Spinoza's political and legal philosophy, I would like, in passing to draw your attention to an aspect of the influence of Spinoza's political philosophy which has not yet found the interest it deserves: the influence he had during the founding period of the Constitution of the United States. As Guiseppa Saccaro Battisti has shown, there were three books of Spinoza's in Thomas Jefferson's library - the Opera Posthuma, the Tractatus Theologico-politicus, which Jefferson himself "ordered from Paris in 1792 (Saccaro Battisti, p. 1), and the English translation of that same work dating from 1789. Besides the reflections on the different forms of government or constitution in the Tractatus Politicus, especially on a federalist form of the state ... special attention has to be given to Spinoza's theory of civil religion ... as the secular complement of positive religion. While positive religion, because of its inherent particularism, divides people, civil religion is, according to Spinoza in the TTP, the necessary medium of political integration on the level of imagination - imagination being the level on which collective political thought is effective. The religious pluralism of the founding period of the United States demanded such a unifying religiously founded common belief, and as far as I can see, it is Spinoza's theory of civil religion that inspired the Founding Fathers, especially Jefferson, to push forward this concept.
Ergo (working back through the argumentation presented above): The founding fathers (at least Jefferson, who was heavily influential in the writing of the founding documents) believed in a "natural law" that was quite divorced from that of Titus. Therefore, Titus' definition of "natural" is very likely not that of the founding fathers. Therefore, Titus' extrapolations from his definition are likely wrong.

Next, Titus' argument that - under his definition of natural law - both parents must be US citizens for the children to be "natural born citizens" is proven incorrect, since we have had six presidents with at least one non-US parent. Therefore, Titus' arguments for the definition of "natural law" are not historically founded.

Next, the US Code is the codification of the federal laws of the United States. As such, it provides the closest thing to getting to the definition of "natural born citizen", at least until SCOTUS rules on it or a constitutional amendment is written on it. Therefore, ignoring the US Code is not very rational.

Next, looking at the pertinent US Code, we find that President Obama would be a Citizen of the United States at Birth under requirement G of the appropriate code even if he had been born outside of the United States. Therefore, birthers' standard argument that Obama wasn't born in the US, and is therefore ineligible to be POTUS, doesn't comport with the US code. In fact, the only way that Obama wouldn't be a Citizen of the United States at Birth would be if a foreign woman - not Ann Dunham - was his mother OR if Ann Dunham didn't live for a total of 2 years between 1956 (when she turned 14) and 1961 (when Obama was born). In other words, birthers' arguments don't hold any legal water. (NOTE: If slc1's point about it being a 5-year requirement in 1961 is accurate, then this would provide a means to challenge his Citizen of the United States at Birth status, only if it can be proven that the State of Hawaii as well as local newspapers lied about Obama's being born in Hawaii.)

Next, looking at the same US Code we find that President Obama - who was born in the state of Hawaii - is a Citizen of the United States at Birth under requirement A of the appropriate code. Therefore, Titus' argument that both parents need to be US citizens is legally incorrect.

Bottom line: Obama is a Citizen of the United States at Birth according to the US Code, and Titus' Christianist mumbo-jumbo is an invalid metric.


Anonymous said...

Re: "Yes, yes, I know that “Citizen of the United States at birth” is not the same thing as “natural born citizen,”

We are in agreement that it is close. But I go further and say that with minor exceptions (the children of foreign diplomats and enemy invaders) natural born citizen and native born citizen were synonyms at the time that the US Constitution was written.

That is why you get a quotation like this in 1803, shortly after the US Constitution was written:

"Prior to the adoption of the constitution, the people inhabiting the different states might be divided into two classes: natural born citizens, or those born within the state, and aliens, or such as were born out of it. The first, by their birth-right, became entitled to all the privileges of citizens; the second, were entitled to none, but such as were held out and given by the laws of the respective states prior to their emigration. ...St. George Tucker, BLACKSTONE'S COMMENTARIES: WITH NOTES OF REFERENCE TO THE CONSTITUTION AND LAWS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA. (1803)

As you can see, there is no mention of parents. Natural Born Citizens were "those born within the state."

And here is a quotation from 1829, showing the same interpretation:

"Therefore every person born within the United States, its territories or districts, whether the parents are citizens or aliens, is a natural born citizen in the sense of the Constitution, and entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining to that capacity."---William Rawle, A VIEW OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. 2d ed. (1829)

And of course, the reason that Obama's election was confirmed by the US Congress UNANIMOUSLY was that that is still the view today.

In fact, Ronald Reagan's attorney general put it this way:

"“Under the longstanding English common-law principle of jus soli, persons born within the territory of the sovereign (other than children of enemy aliens or foreign diplomats) are citizens from birth. Thus, those persons born within the United States are "natural born citizens" and eligible to be President..."---- Edwin Meese, et al, THE HERITAGE GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION (2005) [Edwin Meese was Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, and the Heritage Foundation is a well-known Conservative organization.]

Anonymous said...

This fellow seems to be saying much the same thing as I did:

Umlud said...

The point that I was making about comparing "Citizen of the United States at Birth" and "natural born citizen" was mostly due to the point that some birthers argue that, because the terms are different, they are different.

Some also point to other language that says that some of the types of citizens at birth are 'named', and so are therefore not the same as being a "natural born citizen."

Still, I didn't want to focus on this point, since the major point of my piece is that Titus is factually wrong on so many fronts.

Of course, if you are a birther, then Obama wasn't born in the US. And if you believe in Titus' "natural law", even if President Obama were born in the US, he couldn't be a citizen, due to 'Natural Law' or something. (Titus fails to recognize, that, based on his 'Natural Law', no one could be a citizen of any nation, since the human race predates the concept of nationality, and without nationality, one's parents are - by Titus' definition - not nationals of any country and therefore cannot pass nationality on to their children.)