United States presidential eligibility legislation
The controversy generated by various conspiracy theorists who asserted during the 2008 presidential election campaign that Barack Obama was not a natural-born U.S. citizen, as mandated by the Constitution, and thus was ineligible to be President of the United States, prompted several state legislatures to consider legislation aimed at requiring future presidential candidates to show proof of presidential eligibility before being granted ballot access in their state. Also, activists subscribing to these "birther theories" lobbied members of Congress to block Obama from taking office after he won the election, but to no avail.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for holding the presidency. To serve as president, one must:
- be a natural-born U.S. citizen of the United States;
- be at least thirty-five years old;
- be a resident in the United States for at least fourteen years.
A person who meets the above qualifications would, however, still be disqualified from holding the office of president under any of the following conditions:
- Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no person can be elected president more than twice. The amendment also specifies that if any eligible person serves as president or acting president for more than two years of a term for which some other eligible person was elected president, the former can only be elected president once.
- Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, upon conviction in impeachment cases, the Senate has the option of disqualifying convicted individuals from holding federal office, including that of president.
- Under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no person who swore an oath to support the Constitution, and later rebelled against the United States, can become president. However, this disqualification can be lifted by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress.
Activists lobbied members of Congress to reject the Electoral College vote and block Obama's election as president in its sitting on January 8, 2009, to certify and tally the results of the election. Two Republican members of the House of Representatives, John Linder and Ron Paul, were heavily lobbied by activists who believed that the two lawmakers would be more willing than other members of Congress to raise objections to Obama's confirmation. The lobbying was unsuccessful and Congress unanimously declared Obama to be the winner of the election.
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In March 2009, Representative Bill Posey, a newly elected Republican from Florida's 15th congressional district, introduced a bill, H.R. 1503, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Had this bill been enacted into law, it would have amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require candidates for the Presidency "to include with the [campaign] committee's statement of organization a copy of the candidate's birth certificate" plus supporting documentation.
The bill did not initially have any co-sponsors and was introduced without the Republican leadership being informed.Florida Today, the newspaper serving his constituency, commented that the bill "stems from fringe opponents of President Barack Obama who, during the 2008 election campaign, questioned whether Obama was born in Hawaii," but added that Posey's office "does not question Obama's citizenship." Posey explained his motivation as being to "prevent something like this [controversy] from happening in the future" by requiring "the birth certificate up front and take [the issue] off the table". His initiative was strongly criticized by Florida Democrats, who accused Posey of trying to "fan the rumors on the extreme fringe of the Republican Party" and "pandering to the right wing".
Satirist Stephen Colbert also mocked Posey for not addressing rumors that he was "part alligator"; Posey responded by commenting that there was "no reason to say that I'm the illegitimate grandson of an alligator". He also stated that there was now "no reason to question" that Obama is a U.S. citizen.
Posey's bill gained the support of twelve Republican co-sponsors - Representatives John R. Carter, Kenny Marchant, Louie Gohmert, John Culberson, Randy Neugebauer, Mike Conaway and Ted Poe (all from Texas), Rep. John Campbell (California), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Virginia), Rep. Dan Burton (Indiana), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Rep. Trent Franks (Arizona). Republican Senator Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) also stated that he would "likely support it" if the bill reached the Senate, saying that Obama "meets the constitutional requirement to be president," and that "It is each state's responsibility to determine the eligibility of those running for federal office." H.R. 1503 was never voted upon by either house of Congress and died when the 111th Congress adjourned at the end of 2010.
On July 27, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood. The resolution, containing language recognizing Hawaii as President Obama's birth state, passed by a vote of 378 to 0. Some of the cosponsors of the Posey bill, namely Campbell, Carter and Marchant, did not cast a vote. The House has 435 members when all seats are filled.
On April 19, 2010, the Arizona House of Representatives voted in favor of a rider to require presidential candidates "to submit documents proving they meet the constitutional requirements to be president". If enacted, the law would give the Arizona Secretary of State the power to omit a candidate's name on the state ballot if there is "reasonable cause" to believe that the documents are not adequate proof of the requirements for office. The rider passed the Arizona House of Representatives on a 31–29 vote, with only Republicans voting in favor and some Republicans joining with Democrats to oppose. The bill then went to the Arizona State Senate, which declined to vote on the bill before the April 2010 end of legislative session, the deadline for the bill's passage.
In reaction to the proposed legislation, The Arizona Republic referred to it as a "nutty birther bill" that would make Arizona seem to be a place where "any crackpot whim can be enshrined in law". Arizona Republican State Representative Cecil Ash, who supported the bill, appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360° to discuss the bill. Ash stated that he believed President Obama was an American citizen, but there has been "a lot of controversy over the issue". Cooper then likened the people who believe there is a birth certificate controversy to people who believe the moon is made of cheese and asked Ash if he knew the moon was not made of cheese without investigation. Ash responded in the affirmative.
In January 2011, similar legislation again was introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives. On April 14, 2011 the Arizona legislature passed a bill requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to show the Arizona secretary of state proof that they are natural-born citizens. Such proof could be either a long-form birth certificate or at least two other forms of accepted proof, such as an early baptismal certificate, circumcision certificate or hospital birth record. On April 18, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.
A state legislator introduced a similar bill in 2012. In March 2012, a senate committee voted favorably on a bill that would require candidates for the presidency and vice presidency to submit an affidavit attesting to their eligibility to serve.
Legislation introduced in April 2011 by 11 Republican state legislators would require any elected official to provide proof of citizenship before being sworn in. The bill was not voted out of committee.
In January 2011, Connecticut state Sen. Michael McLachlan introduced legislation that would mandate presidential and vice presidential candidates to provide their birth certificates for their names to be placed on the ballot. The bill did not make it out of committee.
In April 2010, Georgia state representative Mark Hatfield introduced legislation that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to submit an affidavit "stating the candidate's citizenship and age and shall append to the affidavit documents that prove the candidate is a natural born citizen, prove the candidate's age, and prove that the candidate meets the residency requirements for President of the United States."
In January 2011, Hawaii state representative Rida Cabanilla introduced HB 1116, allowing the Hawaii Department of Health to provide upon request a copy of the birth certificate of a "person of civic prominence", defined as a candidate or officeholder for which United States citizenship is required, and to charge the requesting party a surcharge of $100.
In January 2011, Indiana state senator Mike Delph introduced legislation requiring presidential candidates to file a certified copy of a birth certificate along with additional documentation to be on the Indiana ballot. The legislation was not voted out of committee.
In March 2011, Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson introduced legislation that would require presidential or vice presidential candidates to submit certified copies of their birth certificates, which would be available for public inspection.
Legislation introduced in April 2011 by state Senator A.G. Crowe and state Representative Alan Seabaugh would require candidates for federal office to file a birth certificate. The legislation was not voted out of committee.
State representative Richard Cebra introduced legislation requiring candidates to submit a birth certificate and government-issued identification.
Legislation introduced in April 2011 by state Representative Mike Callton would require presidential candidates to submit their birth certificates.
Fifteen Republican members of the Missouri House of Representatives sponsored an amendment to the Missouri Constitution in March 2009 that would require "candidates who are required by the Constitution of the United States to be natural born citizens" to provide a birth certificate to the Missouri Secretary of State to confirm their eligibility. A certificate of live birth would not be accepted. Failure to comply would result in the candidate being deemed ineligible to stand. The only political offices to be affected would be the President and Vice President, which are the only two positions for which there is a specific constitutional citizenship requirement. The proposed amendment is part of a "voter's bill of rights", which would serve "as a defense against corruption, fraud, and tyranny". Political commentators interpreted the proposal as being "aimed at advancing the claims of the fringe movement that doubts President Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president". The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution No. 34, was subsequently withdrawn.
In January 2011, Republican State Representative Lyle Rowland introduced legislation that would require "proof of identity and proof of United States citizenship" for all presidential and vice-presidential candidates." In May 2011, the requirement that presidential candidates present proof of natural born citizenship was added but later trimmed from an omnibus election law reform bill. Rowland introduced similar legislation in 2012. On March 29, 2012, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would require presidential or vice presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship before appearing on the ballot. The bill then passed a Missouri senate committee.
A number of Missouri Republican politicians have continued to support claims and litigation on the citizenship issue. State Representatives Cynthia L. Davis, Timothy W. Jones and Casey Guernsey have committed to participating as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Missouri challenging Obama's citizenship. State Representative Edgar G. H. Emery told reporters in July 2009 that he "questions Obama's citizenship and ... believes his alleged lack of a legitimate birth certificate ignores the Constitution."
In January 2011, Montana state representative Bob Wagner introduced legislation requiring all candidates for federal office file affidavits with the Montana secretary of state verifying that they are qualified; presidential candidates would be required to provide the state with a valid copy of their birth certificates.
Proposed legislation introduced in January 2011 would have required a presidential or vice presidential candidate to provide proof of birth that includes the names of the candidate's parents, and proof that the parents were United States citizens at the time of the candidate's birth; the candidate would also have to swear of affirm, "I was born a citizen of the United States of America and was subject exclusively to the jurisdiction of the United States of America, owing allegiance to no other country at the time of my birth. On the day I was born, both my birth mother and birth father were citizens of the United States of America." The proposed legislation failed to be voted out of committee.
Legislation introduced in March 2011 would have required presidential candidates to present their birth certificates when filing their nomination papers; the proposed enactment date was changed to 2013 and thus would not have affected the 2012 presidential elections. The proposed legislation was not voted out of committee.
Similar legislation proposed in 2012 also was not voted out of committee.
Oklahoma Republican state Representative Mike Ritze proposed a bill in December 2008, requiring any candidate for public office in Oklahoma to show proof of citizenship. Ritze declared that he "does not believe Obama submitted an authentic copy of his birth certificate". He also unsuccessfully approached Oklahoma Republican Senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe to persuade them to mount a challenge to Obama's confirmation by Congress. The bill, House Bill 1329, was criticized by The Norman Transcript newspaper as "an outright attempt to embarrass President Barack Obama whose own citizenship was questioned, mostly by those pajama guerrillas trolling on the Internet". The bill gained a 23–20 vote in favor, but failed to meet the 25-vote threshold required to pass.
In February 2011, similar legislation was reintroduced in the Oklahoma state senate.
Legislation introduced in April 2011 by state Representative Daryl Metcalfe would require candidates for president and vice president to provide proof of citizenship to qualify for a spot on the state ballot.
In Tennessee, four Republican state Representatives—Stacey Campfield, Glen Casada, Frank S. Niceley and Eric H. Swafford—announced in February 2009 that they would be joining a legal action to force Obama to release his birth certificate and prove his citizenship. Casada, the Tennessee House Republican caucus chairman, said that he believes Obama has further proof of eligibility, and would like him to make it available: "Yes, people may say, you're just chasing some conspiracy theory ... [but] it's a simple act on his part to just do, and we're done—move on." The alternative newspaper Nashville Scene described Swafford as joining a "wacky legal action" and quoted Tennessee house Democrat Larry Miller as saying: "What is the mentality of these kind of people who continuously make these kind of goofy statements? It's embarrassing." Attorney Orly Taitz of California said she planned to file the suit, representing the Defend Our Freedoms Foundation.
Legislation proposed in January 2011 would require anyone running for elected office to furnish a birth certificate before being declared an eligible candidate." It failed to be voted out of a subcommittee.
In January 2016, two Democratic legislators proposed barring the Secretary of State from placing on the ballot any presidential or vice-presidential candidate who was not a natural-born citizen.
On November 16, 2010, Texas state representative Leo Berman introduced legislation requiring any candidate for president or vice president running in Texas to submit to the Texas Secretary of State an "original birth certificate indicating that the person is a natural-born United States citizen." In introducing the bill, Berman said that the "bill is necessary because we have a president whom the American people don't know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place." If signed into law, the bill would take effect September 1, 2011, about 6 months ahead of the Texas presidential primaries for the 2012 presidential election.
By inserting the word "original" into the bill, Berman addressed concerns by conspiracy theorists that other bills that do not contain that word are "flawed". His bill would therefore specifically disallow the use of the reproduced certificate that Obama has used since June 2008 as evidence. The legality of such a bill is unknown, as reproduced certificates are generally accepted by government agencies as proof of birth.
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