Order Pending in California Eligibility Lawsuit Filed Against John McCain
By as soon as noon today, the Hon. William Alsup of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California should render a decision regarding the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Republican National Committee, the California Republican Party and Sen. John McCain on September 4, all connected with a lawsuit filed on August 11 by Markham Robinson, chairman of California’s American Independent Party.
As far as I know, this is at the very least the third such lawsuit challenging McCain’s eligibility for the presidency. According to the Washington Post, which questioned McCain’s citizenship back in May 2008–about two months after McCain’s citizenship was questioned by the New York Times–a U.S. State Department manual states holds that, because U.S. military installations across the globe cannot be deemed “part of the United States,” any children “born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth.”
Congress actually intervened back in May, with leaders including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and McCain rival Barack Obama uniting with GOP counterparts to eliminate any confusion with regard to the Arizona senator’s citizenship by proclaiming him a “natural-born citizen” of the United States. This reaffirmed a measure brought forth by Congress in 1937 which bestowed the status of “naturalized U.S. citizen” upon children of military, government and railroad personnel born in U.S. territories abroad.
Markham Robinson, the party chairman who filed suit against McCain in California, told me over the telephone that his suit hinges on, among other things, the difference between being “naturalized” and being “natural-born,” the latter being required for the presidency by Article 11, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
“The term ‘natural-born citizen,’ Jeff, is a term undefined by the constitution,” said Robinson. “Being ‘naturalized’ means being as-if-natural, but understand that people are not natural-born when they are naturalized.”
Robinson, who described McCain as a “Panamanian anchor baby,” contests that the GOP nominee was actually born in Colon, a city in Panama which was not a part of the Panama Canal Zone, and not at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Coco Solo, where McCain’s 96-year-old mother, Roberta, has vivid memories of the sounds of celebration in a nearby officer’s club following her son’s birth. According to the aforementioned Washington Post article, however, no record of McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone–then a U.S. territory–exists.
Regardless of the fuzziness of any details, Robinson’s motivation is fairly clear.
“If John McCain gets elected, and it looks like he could,” said Robinson, “we’ll still be in the process of appeals and he could see his eligibility denied by the Supreme Court, resulting in Sarah Palin assuming the presidency or, if his eligibility is denied before the electoral college selection [on December 15], we could see a compromise candidate.”
“And that candidate would be?” I asked.
Now, even aside from the underlying issue regarding McCain’s citizenship, here’s how I look at Robinson’s challenge of John McCain: When New Hampshire resident Fred Hollander filed a similar suit against McCain in March of this year, the District Court dismissed the case on the grounds that, like many voters who take to the courts to challenge a certain candidate’s spot on a ballot, he lacked standing to sue. Candidates and political parties as a whole, see, have an easier time proving that they have standing because a candidate or party–rather than an individual voter–can show injury from the presence of such a possibly ineligible candidate on a shared ballot, can show that the injury in question is directly related to that ineligible candidate, and can argue that adjudication of the issue could provide relief.
Therein lies the rub, not only for Markham Robinson but for Philip Berg as well. The Motion to Dismiss filed by the GOP lawyers in San Francisco was relatively light on citizenship answers but heavy on language challenging Robinson’s standing. They maintained that McCain’s candidacy hasn’t caused him any injury and, with regard to possible relief, went as far as to propose that McCain’s removal from the ballot in California would only negligibly improve Alan Keyes’ chances in the state.
The question here in Philadelphia, therefore, is how Phil Berg plans to get around the standing issue. The District Court in New Hampshire, after all, left no question as to whether an individual citizen like Fred Hollander had standing to challenge McCain’s eligibility — what makes Berg’s case any different?
He argues that Obama’s candidacy has defrauded the American voting public out of hundreds of millions of dollars. He argues that the Obama’s eventual removal from office should his allegations of ineligibility eventually be proven correct and brought forth would lead to chaos and catastrophe within the Democratic Party and America as a whole. Is any of this enough to prove injury, to prove proximate cause, to show the feasibility of redress?
On the telephone this morning, Berg said that he has been questioned about the standing issue, that he is considering the best way to address it in the future, and will talk to me more about it later. On the Robinson case, though, he was quick to point out what he called a “very different situation.”
“Note that he filed suit and they responded,” Berg said, evidently an allusion to the motion filed by the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of California and John McCain almost a week prior to the answer deadline. “I’ve filed suit, and they haven’t responded.”
I’ve made my position known over the past few weeks as the details surrounding Berg’s lawsuit presented themselves. Though I have freely admitted that I am skeptical of Berg’s allegations–much like I am skeptical of those raised by Markham Robinson–I have also maintained that I feel as though we, as Americans, are constitutionally obligated to vet our potential leaders to the best of our ability, regardless of their political ideology.
Even though I personally feel as though the controversy surrounding John McCain is more cut-and-dry than that surrounding Barack Obama, it will nonetheless be interesting to see how Judge Alsup comes down today on Robinson’s standing and on the rest of the GOP’s motion. Will the citizenship issue be addressed at all, or will it boil down to standing alone?
One person in particular should be watching as well — Philip Berg.