2011 flashback: could Arizona determine whether presidential candidates were “natural born citizens”?

In light of some current disputes, here’s a flashback from 2011, with excerpts from three news stories out of Arizona:

Arizona legislature passes law requiring birth certificate to run for office:

Arizona, a state that has shown little reluctance in bucking the federal government, is again plowing controversial political ground, this time as its legislature passed a bill to require President Barack Obama and other presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship before their names can appear on the state’s ballot.

. . .

Whether Arizona’s measure would be found constitutional is an open question, legal scholars say.

Daniel Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University’s law school, said he doesn’t think the bill on its face conflicts with federal law. But he said a court might find its application unconstitutional. “I think the state of Arizona, like any other state, is entitled to formulate rules to ensure that candidates whose name appear on the ballot are in fact qualified,” Tokaji said.

The U.S. Constitution sets the qualifications for presidential candidates, and the Arizona proposal requires proof of those qualifications. However, opponents question whether Arizona’s bill adds additional requirements.

The measure says political parties and presidential candidates must hand in affidavits stating a candidate’s citizenship and age. It also requires them to provide the candidate’s birth certificate and a sworn statement saying where the candidate has lived for 14 years. If candidates don’t have a copy of their birth certificates, they could meet the requirement by providing baptismal or circumcision certificates, hospital birth records and other documents.

If it can’t be determined whether candidates who provided documents in place of their birth certificates are eligible to appear on the ballot, the secretary of state would be able to set up a committee to help determine whether the requirements have been met. The names of candidates can be kept off the ballot if the secretary of state doesn’t believe the candidates met the citizenship requirement.

The bill doesn’t explicitly provide an appeals process for a candidate whose name was kept off the ballot.

But Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine professor who specializes in election law, said the candidate in such a case could go to federal court to seek an order preventing enforcement of the law on the grounds it would be an unconstitutional qualification for the office.

Hasen believes there’s a good chance the law would get struck down, likely on the grounds that it adds an impermissible requirement for presidential candidates. “It depends on how a court would read the bill,” he said.

Seel predicted the proposal would stand up in court because it relies on standards that the Department of Defense uses in making sure military applicants are U.S. citizens.

He said one fan of the measure is real estate tycoon and possible Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who last month appeared on ABC’s “The View” and called on Obama to “show his birth certificate.” Seel said he discussed the bill with Trump last week, and “he liked it.”

Arizona Birther Bill Is Unconstitutional, Legal Scholars Say:

2012 presidential candidates could have one more challenge to getting their name on the ballot: proving to Arizona’s secretary of state that they are natural-born U.S. citizens.

Yet lawmakers and experts from across the country are saying that the bill, which passed Arizona’s House of Representatives in a landslide vote late Thursday evening, is blatantly unconstitutional.

“It wouldn’t hold up for a nanosecond,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School and one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars who has worked for the Justice Department under President Obama. “I’m not even sure if it’s intended seriously.”

. . .

Legally, national political parties have the right to put forth presidential candidates, and many view Arizona’s legislation as a classic example of a state’s attempt to encroach on federal power.

“It’s an interference with federal supremacy. It’s not up for a state to decide who is qualified to run for president,” said Tribe.

Brewer vetoes birther bill, guns bill:

Calling it “a bridge too far,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday vetoed the state legislature’s controversial “birther bill” . . . .

. . .

In a letter explaining her veto to the House speaker, Brewer said she could not support legislation that “could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions” about candidates’ eligibility for the presidential race, since Arizona’s secretary of state would be the single person to ultimately decide whether a hopeful’s documentation met the state’s standards.

“I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their ‘early baptismal or circumcision certificates’ among other records to the Arizona secretary of state,” she said in the letter. “This is a bridge too far.”

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