Profile: Peter Spiro
Peter Spiro was a participant or observer in the following events:
President-elect Barack Obama faces another challenge to his presidency—an Internet-based effort to block the US Electoral College from certifying him as president, according to a report from the Christian Science Monitor. The challenge centers on long-debunked accusations that Obama is not a US citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The Electoral College meets on December 15 to cast its votes, as garnered through the November 4 election results. The Constitution requires that the president be a US citizen; the people behind this effort insist that Obama was born in Kenya, and not in Hawaii as his birth certificate attests. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall says: “Most of the world thinks this is settled except for a few conspiracy theorists. In the 2000 election… Republican electors felt under siege, and I expect the Democrat electors may end up feeling the same way [this time].” North Carolina elector Wayne Abraham (D-NC) says he has received three letters and a phone call asking him not to vote for Obama. “I was surprised, but I’m not worried about it,” he says. “As I said to the lady on the phone, I figured that the Bush administration had ample opportunity to investigate Senator Obama, and if they had discovered he was not truly a citizen they… would have let us know.” Immigration law expert Peter Spiro of Temple University says the entire issue is a “nonstarter, because Obama was born in Hawaii.” The biggest effort of the attempt to stop the Electoral College from certifying Obama’s presidency is a lawsuit in California brought by failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes (see November 12, 2008 and After). Lawyer Philip Berg, who has lost a lawsuit challenging Obama’s citizenship (see August 21-24, 2008), says: “People are going after electors now because they can only vote for a qualified candidate, and [Obama] hasn’t shown he’s qualified. I think we have enough trouble—we don’t need a fake president.” Melanie Siewert of Kenansville, North Carolina, says the questions surrounding Obama’s citizenship have moved her to get involved in politics for the first time in her life. “I’m not asking electors to overturn their vote, but really to, before we vote, to make absolutely sure,” she says. She says she has contacted most of North Carolina’s 15 electors. “This is not being a sore loser or racist. This is just about ensuring that our leader is being truthful about who he is.” Presidential historian Perry Leavell says: “Human beings will always go for myth because it’s compelling, dramatic, and, if it were true, it would be able to change history. You can go back into the history of the American presidency and find over and over again people… who are prepared to believe the exact opposite of what all the data would say.” Constitutional law binds state electors to cast their votes for the candidate who won their state. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/26/2008] The Electoral College will vote for Obama as president. [WRAL-TV, 12/15/2008]
Entity Tags: Wayne Abraham, Christian Science Monitor, Barack Obama, Alan Keyes, Elaine Marshall, Philip J. Berg, Melanie Siewert, Peter Spiro, Perry Leavell, US Electoral College
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Georgia State Representative Mark Hatfield (R-GA) introduces his so-called “birther” bill, House Bill 401, which would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to prove their citizenship before being placed on Georgia’s elections ballot. “I think the issue with our sitting president has been left unresolved for a significant length of time that people have concerns,” Hatfield says. “But this is not just about our current president. It’s about enforcing the constitutional provisions for anyone who seeks the office of presidency.” Ninety-three fellow representatives, all Republicans, sign on to Hatfield’s bill as co-sponsors. By the next day, March 3, 20 withdraw their names, and several more withdraw the following day. On March 4, local attorney and Libertarian Loren Collins publishes a scathing op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noting that Hatfield’s bill would create requirements for president that do not exist in the US Constitution. Noting that the bill would require candidates to affirm that they have never held dual citizenships in other countries, Collins writes: “There is not and never has been any constitutional rule mandating that the president ‘has never held dual or multiple citizenship.’ This is pure birther fantasy, a nonexistent bit of pseudo law that an attorney such as Hatfield should know better than to promote.” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, determines that Collins’s claim of the bill’s extraconstitutionality is true. When PolitiFact contacts Collins for comment, the lawyer reminds it that Article II of the Constitution reads: “No Person except a natural born Citizen… shall be eligible to the Office of President.” The language does not and should not exclude candidates who are or were dual citizens, Collins says. Foreign law decided who qualifies for dual citizenship, and foreign law should not decide who is eligible to be US president. Hatfield tells PolitiFact that he does not consider himself a “birther,” but wants proof that Obama is indeed eligible to be president. “We’ve seen a computer-generated summary of a live birth but not the particulars of his birth on a long form,” Hatfield says (see June 13, 2008 and July 1, 2009). “Congress has never created an enforcement mechanism, so it is up to the states to step up and fill the gap.” Hatfield says the Founders thought that presidents should be born in the United States, their parents should be citizens, and dual citizens should be barred to avoid foreign influence. That’s why the Constitution uses the term “natural born citizen” instead of “citizen,” he says. PolitiFact writes, “Under Hatfield’s definition, Obama couldn’t be president.” Neither could Obama’s 2008 challenger, John McCain (R-AZ), who was born to a US military family in the Panama Canal Zone (see March 14 - July 24, 2008). PolitiFact learns from legal experts on US citizenship that Hatfield’s “natural born” concept does not exist in the law. Law professor Peter Spiro says: “If that [the bill] passes in Georgia’s Statehouse, it will be challenged and it will be struck down as unconstitutional. I am 100 percent confident.” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, says Hatfield’s bill contains a dual-citizenship ban that does not exist in the Constitution. “It’s trying to add an additional requirement to the eligibility for president,” von Spakovsky says. According to PolitiFact, legal scholars agree that the Founders intended to block naturalized citizens, or those who became citizens after their birth, from becoming president. However, Spiro notes, the law has never been tested, the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue, and no candidate with dual citizenship or who was born outside the country has won the presidency. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/1/2011; St. Petersburg Times, 3/4/2011] Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-GA) says he does not believe the bill will win passage. “I’m not promoting the bill or squelching discussion. We’ll have a discussion, and then we’ll see what happens,” he says. “I believe President Obama is the duly elected president of the United States. I’ve never followed the ‘birther’ school of thought.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/2/2011]
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