UPDATE: On Friday, the Supreme Court turned down the emergency appeal from the New Jersey man who says President-elect Barack Obama is ineligible to be president.
The growing legal battle against President-elect Barack Obama's presidency is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court this week. The justices will decide whether or not to look into a lawsuit challenging Obama's citizenship. While the lawsuit is a continuation of a New Jersey case, the citizenship question has sparked a number of lawsuits from Obama's opponents.
Among those who have filed lawsuits is Alan Keyes, who ran an unsuccessful race against Barack Obama in 2004 for the Illinois Senate. Now, U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has taken an interest in the legal question and asked the rest of the bench to look into the case. Obama received dual citizenship since his father was a Kenyan-born national, which arguably doesn't qualify him as a "natural born citizen" as required by the U.S. Constitution.
A petition to stop the Electoral College from confirming Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States on December 15 has already been rejected by Justice David Souter, but in a rare move, Thomas has stepped in and granted the case time before the high court in a conference scheduled for Friday.
ESSENCE.com spoke to Keyes about why he's challenging Obama's citizenship and if this whole lawsuit is just an overblown case of sour grapes.
ESSENCE.COM: What exactly do you want to accomplish with this lawsuit?
ALAN KEYES: I had read a little bit about the issues that were being raised about Obama back during the primary season. At first I thought, like a lot of people, "There's nothing to this. It's just a matter of fact. You can establish what the facts are." The Constitution specifies that a citizen who is naturalized, rather than born into the status of being an American citizen, cannot be president. That was done in the beginning because people feared a foreign takeover of the United States government by the process of immigration. Staid as it is, we again are in a situation where a lot of foreign entities have influence or control over U.S. policy.
The reason an issue has been raised about Obama is because of the simple question, which can be answered with a birth certificate that shows he was born in the United States, or born to parents who had the capacity to transmit U.S. citizenship. When the question was asked, he danced around it. If the most important office of the federal government can be occupied by someone who is not qualified under the United States Constitution, that destroys the authority of the Constitution. I think it's something that needs to be dealt with in a clear, straightforward way. Eventually the case will get to the Supreme Court, establish the facts, and clear the air. It's really all very simple.
ESSENCE.COM: The Obama campaign responded to these questions months ago by posting a birth certificate on his campaign Web site, showing that he was born in Hawaii.
KEYES: A lot of questions have been raised about what they posted. It has to be established by a matter of fact, not by some Web site. The state of Hawaii needs to share the birth certificate with the Supreme Court, so they can take a look at it. When I went into the government as part of the United States foreign service, you had to submit an original copy of your birth certificate. People have been dancing around Obama's certification instead of going straight to the answer.
ESSENCE.COM: What's wrong with the birth certificate on his Web site?
KEYES: Part of the problem is, at the time he was born, the state of Hawaii was issuing certificates of live birth. That's what he has on the Web site. They would issue that certificate verifying you were born, but not necessarily in the United States. And there is question that, at the time that he was born, his mother was not yet of age to transmit citizenship. You had to be 19, I think. If he was born in Hawaii, then he is a natural born citizen. If he was born somewhere else-and a question has been raised if his birth was in Kenya-then his mother would not have transmitted citizenship. One needs to verify that the certificate verifies the birthplace.
ESSENCE.COM: State officials from the health department of Hawaii have verified that they have Obama's birth records, and that he was indeed born in Hawaii. Do you think they're lying?
KEYES: I don't think anything. Just let it be verified. This is not something that should be taken on hearsay. This is the most important office. Everything should be done without controversy, in such a way that the Constitutional requirements are met. If something is contrary to the Constitutional requirement, then you have to do away with that. It's not on Obama to do this. The folks with whom this burden presently rests are the officials who are now responsible for the process, who sit on the Supreme Court and other areas. They have to abide by their oaths to preserve and defend the Constitution, and not have him entering into office with a question they refuse to resolve.
ESSENCE.COM: Why didn't you bring this up earlier, during the campaign? Why wait until two months before the inauguration?
KEYES: The election is the time when the people make the judgment, not government officials. The problem in this case is, Obama was not properly vetted-by the media, or other individuals-during the campaign. They refused to look at it. People went to the polls with the issue unresolved. Once the electoral process is done, then the responsibility for certifying the results and making sure it's all according to the Constitution rests on the officials. So we're at a different stage of the process. I don't believe it would be a good idea to turn to the government to establish the qualifications of people who are running for office. That could be abused to limit the options of the people. If people are behaving with integrity, these facts would come out and then people would be able to make their judgment. This didn't happen.
ESSENCE.COM: To a lot of people, your lawsuit looks like a case of sour grapes because you lost. Your response?
KEYES: I think politics is irrelevant to this, actually. I don't see how it is showing fondness for Barack Obama to let him enter into office with a question that could be raised. He should not have to operate under that burden. I think the officials need to clear the air for his sake. From my point of view, it is a bad idea to have a president of the United States enter office with a cloud hanging over his head, where every time he tries to do something, he would end up frittering away time because of that objection. So let's get it over with. Let's resolve it and move forward with a clear an undisturbed mandate for the new president.
ESSENCE.COM: For argument's sake, let's say Obama is only a naturalized citizen, and was raised by Americans and grew up in the United States. What difference does that make to you?
KEYES: It makes a difference to the Constitution. The Constitution has to be obeyed. If we get into a position where it is somehow regarded as dispensable then this country will fall apart. Black people should be the first folks to remember that. Without adherence to the Constitution our battles would have never been won. I don't want to live in a country where we are suddenly back in a world where the force of majority rules. I don't think any of us do.
ESSENCE.COM: Would you be in support of amending that section of the Constitution?
KEYES: No, I would most certainly not. Today we are in more danger as a people of being subverted by foreign powers than we were when it was founded. It is possible, under our present rules in America, for folks from another country to come visit America, to have a child here, to take that child back to wherever, raise that child there, and that child would be an American citizen. Do we really think it would be right to have a person who has not lived in America, does not identify with our people, to run here as president of the United States?
ESSENCE.COM: That's a different situation from what's being questioned about Barack Obama.
KEYES: Rules have to be written in general. You can't write a rule in every particular case. The rules established in the Constitution are general rules that have been abided by people throughout the history of this country. People have been excluded from running for president, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger. One has to think of the common good. This isn't a question of individuals anymore. The key thing about the presidency, in my opinion, is that the person above all takes responsibility for the common good of the country. Our public officials do not swear allegiance to a country; they swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That's something to be taken very seriously. Those are the rules.