30 Jul Cutting Birthers Off at the Knees: Repeal the ‘Natural Born’ Condition for the Presidency
I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer on the subject. Do I really think that out of the birther phenomenon will come a constitutional amendment repealing the “natural born” qualification for presidential eligibility? Well, er. . ., I’m not sure. But it is remarkable how no one seems to be focusing on the clearly nativist premise of the birther movement.
It’s also somewhat depressing to isolate the political hydraulics of trying to win repeal of what most non-birthers (which is to say, most rational Americans — here’s a 2001 piece from National Review Online to prove it!) seem to think is an anachronistic limitation on presidential eligibility. When there’s no one seriously at the threshold of disqualification, it’s easy to secure bipartisan support for a constitutional amendment. But precisely because there’s no one seriously in play, there will never be adequate political capital on hand to meet the high threshold for approval (two-thirds of each House plus three-quarters of the states). When there is a serious presidential contender who who would be barred by the condition, on the other hand, the issue becomes partisan and an amendment becomes a nonstarter; one party or the other will have an incentive to block.
The only work-around is to whittle away at the condition through practice. The 2008 election accomplished something on this score, not through Obama’s candidacacy but rather through McCain’s. We now know that someone born outside the United States proper qualifies for the presidency, perhaps even someone who did not hold citizenship at birth. One can imagine other permutations that would chip away at the condition at the margins, the Obama counterfactual being one of them. But it’s hard to see someone who, say, moved here from Canada after infancy making the grade, short of an exercise in constitutional nullifaction by the People.