Monday, May 28, 2012

Is Barack Obama a Native-Born Citizen of the United States?

Obviously this is a hot topic these days. Voters in Georgia challenged Obama's qualification to run for office earlier this year and, despite the fact that Obama submitted no evidence whatsoever in his case and, in fact, refused to appear at the hearing, their challenge was dismissed. And with good reason. Here is an interesting article about the subject, which I will tear apart in the remainder of this posting.

So that article cites "Top constitutional expert Herb Titus" in support of its proposed definition of "natural-born citizen" to mean someone who is born of two parents who are U.S. citizens. He also claims that a Supreme Court case has definitively held in his favor. This one. As you can see from this brief description (which is an accurate summary of the decision), it holds simply that the Fourteenth Amendment does not guarantee women the right to vote.

Anyone familiar with the Constitution already knows that, though, because if the Fourteenth Amendment did guarantee women the right to vote, there would have been no Nineteenth Amendment. Following is the excerpt from the case that Titus uses (though I have included the entire paragraph, instead of just the sentences I like):

“The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens 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 *168 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. The words ‘all children’ are certainly as comprehensive, when used in this connection, as ‘all persons,’ and if females are included in the last they must be in the first. That they are included in the last is not denied. In fact the whole argument of the plaintiffs proceeds upon that idea.” 88 U.S. 162, 168 (Full text, if you're interested)

As you can see, the Court did not actually DECIDE what exactly it takes to be a natural-born citizen. All they decided was that a white woman born within the United States at some point before 1851 was a natural-born citizen because she had been born in the United States to parents who were, themselves, citizens of the United States. This decision was drafted by the Chief Justice at the time, who was not known for being a particularly liberal or expansive legal thinker. If he had intended to limit the scope of natural-born citizenship to only the first class of people discussed, why would he have even brought up other definitions that some experts support?

Specifically, the Court acknowledged that under the common law (which, for clarity, was the judge-made law of England predating the founding of the United States on which much of U.S. law is modeled), “some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference of their parents.” As you know, this is how U.S. citizenship works since the Fourteenth Amendment, which said: “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.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Titus is wrong on the law and the case brought in support, let’s look at the implications of his definition of natural-born citizen. If one is not a natural-born citizen unless one is born within the United States to parents who are both citizens of the United States, then it stands to reason that nobody born before 1776 was a natural-born citizen. That means George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison were not natural-born citizens. If that list looks familiar, it should: Those are eight out of the nine first Presidents of the United States. If we define it based on the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, then Martin Van Buren, our eighth President, also fails.

Now, obviously, their Presidencies are saved by that subclause “or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution,” but still, it begs an interesting question: How is it that two people can grant their child a citizenship status that they don’t have themselves? The answer is simple: it's because whether or not a person is a natural-born citizen has nothing to do with his or her parents' citizenship: not inherently, anyway. A child’s citizenship isn’t just the average of his or her parents’ citizenship. A child is a natural-born citizen if he or she is a citizen of the United States upon his or her birth. No other definition makes any sense.

So the Fourteenth Amendment makes it clear that Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen, because he is a “person born . . . in the United States.” John McCain, who was not born in the United States, is also a natural-born citizen, because he was born to two citizen parents. But it isn’t the Constitution that makes him a natural-born citizen; it is federal law, which declares that the child of two citizens, wherever born, is a citizen of the United States unless he or she renounces that citizenship.

If Congress were to pass a law tomorrow declaring that every person born is a citizen of the United States, they could do so, and then in the 2048 election, a 36 year-old up and comer from China, India, or Brazil could storm into the American consciousness and be elected President. Assuming she could garner the votes. Such a decision about citizenship in the United States would have huge political implications for the legislators who passed it, obviously, and it would require a complete restructuring of our tax system (no more taxing foreign income of citizens living abroad), but it's not constitutionally prohibited.

Ultimately, we can't govern ourselves based off what the Founding Fathers wanted. All we can do is look at what they said, and take it for what it is: wise advice from people who were a hell of a lot smarter than most of us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Future Will Be Spectacular!

Robert Guillaume's character uttered words similar to these in an episode of Sports Night anticipating the Millennium Bug. The rest of the speech was kind of hyperbolic and historically inaccurate, but there's no reason to go into that here.

In 2000, IBM had a fun advertisement with Avery Brooks railing about the fact that it was the year 2000 and the flying cars he had been promised by technologists when he was a child had never materialized. You can watch it here, if you're interested. Ultimately, I think we all understand that flying cars would be much more of a novelty than an actual valuable contribution to society, despite what the Jetsons may have led us to believe, but that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't look at new innovations and products with enthusiasm and optimism.

This article is what inspired me to write this entry, because I think that the grounded approach that John Silence took to predicting future innovations was spot-on then and remains so today. I do think, however, that it's vitally important that we keep in mind the fact that our advances in technology are never going to replace people. Not completely. If they did, it would be the end of humanity; not in a robot apocalypse sense, but rather simply because people need to have a purpose in their lives.

So that's where I'm at now...The future will be spectacular! Once I get there...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Your Session is No Longer Valid


"Your Session is No Longer Valid."  I've been seeing that message a lot the past few days.  It comes from trying to use BarBri's  exam prep software while also playing on the internet and getting distracted for a long time.  Which basically sort of sums up my life, doesn't it?  I spend so much time getting distracted from the things I should be doing, and the distractions aren't even all that entertaining.  I need to work on that.

So the other day, I went to see The Avengers, and while I really enjoyed the film, my favorite part of the entire theater experience that day was the guy sitting in the back who called out at full volume exactly what he thought of each preview.  Most of them received a, "Dude, we totally have to go see that!  Did you see that preview?"  The first time, it was just sort of ridiculous, and I chuckled a little and exchange knowing glances with my friend.  You know, that glance that says, "Get a load of that ridiculous person!"  But then he continued, through each and every preview, until the entire theater (including myself) was laughing with him.  And it all quieted down when the movie actually started, so all in all it was a great experience.

My bar exam prep course starts on Tuesday.  I've begun doing some of the stuff to get started preparing, mostly because the fun things I want to do cost money and I'm trying to save.  I spent a couple hours yesterday sitting on a bench at Grand Army Plaza reading through the material.  It's a little frustrating to be "done with school" and yet still need to spend a couple months studying and preparing for yet another exam...possibly the most important exam of my life (certainly one I'm treating as more important than any other exam I've taken).  But I can see the horizon, and it is fast-approaching.

Oh, and I won a caption contest in a forum game, so that's pretty cool, too.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Musings on Thirty-Three Months in New York

This summer I find myself having come full-circle.  I came to New York with barely two pennies to scrape together (and really, why would you want to scrape together pennies, anyway?), and now I find myself in a similar situation.

The difference now is that I have two things now that I didn't have then: a law degree (well, almost - grades for graduates are due Friday, and graduation is in two weeks) and six figures of student loan debt (my student loan debt increased by an order of magnitude over the last three years).

I left a comfortable (though hardly lucrative) position at a popular restaurant in my home town to move to New York to find something better.  And now I see myself contemplating applying for similar positions here.  They'd probably pay more than I was getting back home, but everything is so much more expensive here, I doubt that my position would be any more secure than it was then.

Hopefully after the bar exam (which I intend to pass on the first try), things will start looking up, but right now the horizon is cloudy and storms are brewing.

Wish me luck!

This blog will be updated at least twice weekly, and will consist of personal stories, reviews of restaurants and shows, and political commentary.  I'll think about splitting  the different parts into different blogs if I have enough to say, and we'll see how things go from here.