Supreme Court won't hear Obama citizenship challenge

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 8, 2008 

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama's January inauguration is still good to go, after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a long-shot challenge to his electoral eligibility.

Without comment, the court brushed off a lawsuit claiming Obama didn't meet the Constitution's citizenship requirements. The move undercuts but doesn't end a legal campaign that's gotten far more traction on the Internet than in the courts.

Justices must still dispose of at least one other legal challenge to Obama's eligibility. Promoted on Web sites and in the conservative media, the various challenges differ somewhat in detail but build on common questions and insinuations about the circumstances of Obama's birth.

"Since candidate Obama was born to a Kenyan father, he is not eligible to the office of the President since he is not a natural born citizen," said retired attorney Leo C. Donofrio in his petition to the Supreme Court.

Obama was born in Hawaii. His mother was a U.S. citizen and his father, a native of Kenya, was a British subject.

While the Obama team has largely dismissed questions about his citizenship, the persistence of the questions drove the campaign in June to make public his birth certificate. It shows, among other things, that he was born in Honolulu hospital at 7:42 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961.

Anyone born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen, regardless of his or her parents' immigration status. Hawaii has been a state since 1959.

"Smears claiming Barack Obama doesn't have a birth certificate aren't actually about that piece of paper, they're about manipulating people into thinking Barack is not an American citizen," said an Obama Web site created during the campaign to counter misinformation about the candidate.

Some conservative activists haven't been convinced. They've been paying for ads, including a full-page missive that appeared on Nov. 17 in the Washington Times' national weekly edition, and they've been filing multiple lawsuits.

Donofrio, who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., initially asked the high court for an emergency stay on Nov. 3. Justice David Souter denied the request three days later. Donofrio then resubmitted his request to Justice Clarence Thomas, who passed it along for consideration by the full court.

On Friday, meeting in their traditional closed-door conference, the nine justices gave some consideration to the case called Donofrio v. Wells.

It takes at least four Supreme Court justices to agree for a case to be put on the schedule for a complete hearing. On Monday at 10 a.m., the court issued its standard written list of orders identifying Donofrio v. Wells as one of about 300 cases that won't be heard any further.

Next up will be a separate lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania attorney Philip J. Berg. Berg, a former state deputy attorney general, also has filed several conspiracy lawsuits — including one alleging that President George W. Bush had a hand in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A federal judge in Eastern Pennsylvania threw out Berg's lawsuit in October, saying that he lacked legal standing to bring the challenge since he couldn't show he faced individual harm even if he could prove his claims about Obama's citizenship. The judge didn't get to the point of weighing the substantive merits of Berg's claim.

"If, through the political process, Congress determines that citizens, voters or party members should police the Constitution's eligibility requirements for the presidency, then it is free to pass laws conferring standing on individuals like (Berg)," U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick wrote. "Until that time, voters do not have standing to bring the sort of challenge that (Berg) attempts to bring."

Surrick was appointed to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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