Decision on Obama citizenship pending

Court delays action on suit

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Supreme Court held off Friday on deciding whether to grant a hearing in a long-shot lawsuit that would decide whether Barack Obama can constitutionally become president as a "natural born" U.S. citizen.

The Friday list of court orders that denies or grants hearings did not mention the lawsuit, which says Mr. Obama should be disqualified from the presidency because he purportedly acquired the same British citizenship that his father had when he was born.

A spokesman for the court said the decision on whether to hear the suit brought by retired New Jersey lawyer Leo Donofrio is likely to be announced next week.

A decision not to grant a writ of certiorari -- the legal term for the declaration that the justices will hear the case -- would mean that a lower court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit can stand.

The Supreme Court's justices met in a private conference Friday morning to discuss the issue. At least four of the court's nine justices must approve before the case is heard.

Justice Clarence Thomas picked up the petition to hear the lawsuit after it was denied by Justice David H. Souter. Justice Thomas referred it to the full court, which decided to distribute the case for the justices' conference.

Mr. Obama demonstrated his citizenship during his campaign by circulating copies of his birth certificate, which showed he was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961. But unlike many of the lawsuits regarding Mr. Obama's citizenship -- which claim he really was born on foreign soil -- Mr. Donofrio's case concedes that Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii but says he still held foreign citizenship at birth.

"Since Barack Obama's father was a citizen of Kenya, and therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom at the time of Senator Obama's birth, then Senator Obama was a British citizen 'at birth,' just like the framers of the Constitution, and therefore, even if he were to produce an original birth certificate proving he were born on U.S. soil, he still wouldn't be eligible to be president."

Kenya was British East Africa until it received its independence in 1963.

Legal scholars doubt the court will hear the case. The Supreme Court rarely grants the kind of court orders -- or stays -- sought by Mr. Donofrio. And doing so in this case would set up an unprecedented challenge to the presidency of a man who already has won the election and almost certainly will have taken office by the time any hearings or decisions could occur.

About a half-dozen people who say the court should stop Mr. Obama from becoming president protested in front of the Supreme Court on Friday morning.

"He does not meet the criteria of the Constitution that the Founding Fathers set out," said Roger Bredow, an Internet publisher from Bethlehem, Ga., who has tried to rally lawsuit supporters to block Mr. Obama's presidency.

Valerie Wohllheden, of Alexandria, said the danger is that in deciding the lawsuit, the Supreme Court might bend to "the will of the people" by allowing Mr. Obama to become president despite constitutional provisions.

"Then you've got mob rule," she said. "How can he uphold the Constitution if he's breaking it?"

The Supreme Court may hear a lawsuit that argues President-elect Barack Obama cannot become president as a "natural born" U.S. citizen. (Associated Press)

After the list of actions was released, Washington resident Theresa Cao said she took heart from the court's delaying its decision on whether to grant a hearing.

"They apparently need the time to deliberate," she said.