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Is Barack Obama a Natural-Born Citizen?


Barack Obama speaking at a rally in Keene, New Hampshire on January 6, 2008
John Churchman/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Online rumor claims Barack Obama is ineligible for the presidency because by virtue of certain laws in effect at the time of his birth he is not a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Description: Online rumor
Circulating since: June 2008
Status: False (see details below)

See also: Where Is Obama's Birth Certificate?

Email text contributed by Carol D., June 8, 2008:


It seems that Barack Obama is not qualified to be president after all for the following reason:

Barack Obama is not legally a U.S. natural-born citizen according to the law on the books at the time of his birth, which falls between "December 24, 1952 to November 13, 1986?

Presidential office requires a natural-born citizen if the child was not born to two U.S. citizen parents, which of course is what exempts John McCain though he was born in the Panama Canal. US Law very clearly stipulates: ".If only one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth, that parent must have resided in the United States for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16." Barack Obama's father was not a U.S. citizen and Obama's mother was only 18 when Obama was born, which means though she had been a U.S. citizen for 10 years, (or citizen perhaps because of Hawai'i being a territory) the mother fails the test for being so for at least 5 years **prior to** Barack Obama's birth, but *after* age 16. It doesn't matter *after*.

In essence, she was not old enough to qualify her son for automatic U.S. citizenship. At most, there were only 2 years elapsed since his mother turned 16 at the time of Barack Obama's birth when she was 18 in Hawai'i. His mother would have needed to have been 16+5= 21 years old, at the time of Barack Obama's birth for him to have been a natural-born citizen. As aformentioned, she was a young college student at the time and was not. Barack Obama was already 3 years old at that time his mother would have needed to have waited to have him as the only U.S. Cizen parent. Obama instead should have been naturalized, but even then, that would still disqualify him from holding the office.

*** Naturalized citizens are ineligible to hold the office of President. ***

Though Barack Obama was sent back to Hawaii at age 10, all the other info does not matter because his mother is the one who needed to have been a U.S. citzen for 10 years prior to his birth on August 4, 1961, with 5 of those years being after age 16. Further, Obama may have had to have remained in the country for some time to protect any citizenship he would have had, rather than living in Indonesia.

Now you can see why Obama's aides stopped his speech about how we technically have more than 50 states, because it would have led to this discovery. This is very clear cut and a blaring violation of U.S. election law. I think the Gov. of California would be very insterested in knowing this if Obama were elected President without being a natural-born U.S. citizen, and it would set precedence. Stay tuned to your TV sets because I suspect some of this information will be leaking through over the next several days.

Analysis: As stated above, Article II of the U.S. Constitution indeed specifies that only natural-born citizens are eligible for the office of the presidency:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Though the term "natural-born citizen" was left undefined by the Framers of the Constitution, it was broadly understood in English common law at the time as referring to one who possesses citizenship by virtue of the circumstances of their birth, which is still the general meaning of the phrase as it's used today.

In the United States there are two established legal principles upon which individuals are said to acquire citizenship at birth: jus sanguinus ("right of blood"), meaning citizenship conferred by being born to parents who are U.S. citizens, and jus soli ("right of soil"), meaning citizenship conferred by being born on U.S. soil. Per the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," all individuals born on U.S. soil are considered "birthright citizens" under the law regardless of the citizenship status of their parents.

Citizenship status of Barack Obama's parents

The forwarded email asserts that because Obama's Kenyan father wasn't a U.S. citizen, and because his mother, who was a citizen, didn't fulfill the supposed legal requirement of "resid[ing] in the United States for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16," Obama himself was therefore not a citizen at birth.

That is false on two counts:

  1. Obama was born on U.S. soil — in Honolulu, Hawaii — and was therefore a citizen at birth by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment (and the principle of jus soli).
  2. The above-stated residency requirement, in effect between 1952 and 1986, applied only to parents of individuals born outside the United States.

Therefore Barack Obama is, in fact, a U.S. citizen. But some still argue he's not a natural-born citizen. The reasons have to do with the disputed meaning of "natural born."

'Natural born' vs. 'native born'

In lawsuits challenging Obama's Constitutional eligibility it has been argued that while birth on U.S. soil confers "birthright" or "native-born" citizenship, it does not confer natural-born citizenship unless both parents are also U.S. citizens. Citing precedents they claim establish the Framers' intent to disqualify individuals who could possess dual nationality or dual allegiance by virtue of having a foreign national for a parent, these litigants assert that such an individual ought not to be regarded as a natural-born citizen eligible to hold the office of the presidency (for example, see Leo D'Onofrio, "Why Obama Is Ineligible - Regardless of His Birthplace").

But among Constitutional scholars the distinction between "natural born" and "native born" is not universally accepted as a crucial one. Short of a Supreme Court decision or legislative statute settling the matter, it remains but one way of interpreting a longstanding legal ambiguity concerning the eligibility clause. There are other interpretations, most notably that found in an analysis of Republican presidential candidate John McCain's standing as a natural-born citizen conducted in 2008 by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. In their view — "based," Tribe and Olson wrote, "on the original meaning of the Constitution, the Framers' intentions, and subsequent legal precedent" — either the fact of birth on U.S. soil or the fact of birth to parents who are U.S. citizens is independently sufficient to confer natural born status.

See also: Where Is Obama's Birth Certificate?

Sources and further reading:

Is Barack Obama a U.S. Citizen? Yes.
The Swamp (Chicago Tribune), 12 June 2008

Born in the U.S.A. - The Truth About Obama's Birth Certificate
FactCheck.org, 21 August 2008

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution
About.com: U.S. Government Info

Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship by Birth in the United States
U.S. Dept. of State Foreign Affairs Manual, 21 August 2009

14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Hawaii Officials Declare Obama Birth Certificate Genuine
Associated Press, 31 October 2008

Judge Tosses Lawsuit Challenging Obama Citizenship
Associated Press, 25 October 2008

American Presidency (Grolier Online), 2006

Last updated: 09/07/13

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