Frivolous Lawsuits Are a Bad Idea: Birther Edition
If you’ve been watching cable news, you’re probably aware of the “Birther” movement – a loose coalition of individuals and organizations promoting the idea that Barack Obama is, for one reason or another, not constitutionally eligible to serve as President.
They make a variety of factual and legal arguments to support their conspiracy theories. The most common “factual” (a term I use loosely) argument they make is that Obama was not actually born in Hawaii, as is widely accepted. Instead, they claim, he was born in a foreign country (usually Kenya). Of course, they ignore that a Certification of Live Birth has been released, and confirmed to be accurate by the relevant officials in Hawaii.
Others concede that he was born in Hawaii, and rely on dubious legal arguments to support their claims. Some claim (usually without citing any supporting authority) that, in order to be a “natural born citizen” under the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, both parents must also be citizens of the United States. To be fair, the Supreme Court has never firmly ruled on what it means to be a “natural born citizen” under the meaning of the Constitution. So, the birthers have simply settled on their own definition, to the exclusion of all other possible definitions.
To support this point, they often rely on the writings of a Swiss political philosopher named Emerich de Vattel, author of the 1758 book “The Law of Nations.” This tome was apparently quite influential in the early development of international law, and it advocates the idea that, for a person to be a “true” citizen of a nation, both of his or her parents must also be citizens. There’s just one problem: no evidence suggests that this work particularly influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution when they were drafting that document. Even if it did, a Swiss book on political philosophy is not binding legal precedent in the United States.
None of this has stopped a dentist/lawyer named Orly Taitz from filing a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s eligibility to serve.
The result? The case was dismissed almost immediately. However, Ms. Taitz continued to file motions, and, after repeated warnings from the judge, was slapped with a $20,000 fine for misconduct, noting that she made no coherent legal arguments, and that her briefs and motions read more like political manifestos than court documents.
It should be noted that one of the best things about this country is the fact that you can say almost anything about anyone, especially elected officials, with relatively few legal ramifications. However, that does not mean that you are guaranteed a platform to air your views, or that you get to use the courts to air whatever crazy idea happens to pop into your head. If that were the case, I’d be in court right now, arguing the merits of hamburger earmuffs.
In the end, we should all remember that the courts are a place to settle genuine legal disputes, and the non-issue of Mr. Obama’s citizenship is not one of them. Ms. Taitz has every right to express her political views in any number of ways. She could buy space on a billboard, she could run spots on the radio, or she could simply make like this guy.