Tuesday, January 17, 2012

George Romney's Natural Born Citizenship Problem: A Different Era

During last night's Fox News Republican presidential debate for the South Carolina primary, liberal panelist Juan Williams asked a very pointed question of Mitt Romney about his position on immigration reform that drew heckles from the audience. “Governor Romney, your father was born in Mexico. You still have family there — yet you have taken the hardest line of anyone on this stage on immigration reform,” Williams said. Although Williams' question didn't mention the natural born citizenship cloud hanging over President Barack Obama' presidency, the question was a back-handed way of throwing the issue in Romney's face. Although Mitt Romney clearly was born to U.S. citizen parents in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Internet blogs and chain e-mails have been making the rounds trying to cast doubt about Romney's natural born citizenship status. Williams has been very vocal in his view that the so-called "birther" debate surrounding Obama's eligibility was all about racism. Liberals immediately tried to cast the audience reaction as a sign of anti-Mexican bigotry within the Republican Party.

When Mitt's father, George Romney, ran against Richard Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, there was a very intense public debate over whether Mitt's father met the constitutional eligibility requirement because of his birth in Mexico. George's parents, Gaskill and Anna Romney, were both U.S. citizens born in Utah, but George's grandfather, a practicing polygamist, had fled with his family to Mexico in the 1800s to escape prosecution for the outlawed practice. George's parents, who were monogamous, were married in Mexico and George was born there in 1907. George's parents fled Mexico with their children during the Mexican Revolution when he was five years old. Census data indicated that all of the family members were listed as U.S. citizens, including George, despite his birth in Mexico.

The We The People of the United States blog contrasts the news media's treatment of the debate over Romney's natural born citizenship status in 1968 compared to the media's virtual blackout of the issue during the 2008 presidential campaign. The New York Times, for example, featured a number of serious stories on the subject starting in 1967 and continuing right up to the time Romney dropped out of the race in 1968. In one of the stories, a very prominent Democratic member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Celler, who served in the House for 50 years and chaired the House Judiciary Committee, elevated the debate. Celler, a practicing lawyer who was considered an expert on immigration law matters, was very outspoken in his view that Romney's natural born citizenship status was "a wide open question" that demanded further inquiry. Celler suggested the establishment of a special commission to rule on his eligibility without any hint that his motives in so requesting were less than honorable:
Representative Emanuel Celler expressed “serious doubts” yesterday as to whether Gov. George Romney of Michigan is eligible for the Presidency. Mr. Celler called it a “wide open question” and suggested that the Republican party appoint some sort of commission to “come up with an answer to this situation. … Mr. Celler, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that although he had no plans to challenge Mr. Romney’s eligibility, the question should not be allowed to go unanswered. … Most constitutional experts have held that he is eligible since his parents were United States citizens. … The Romneys never gave up their citizenship and returned to the United States … George Romney was 5 years old. … Mr. Celler suggested that a commission to rule on Mr. Romney’s eligibility be composed of “eminent professors of law, retired jurists and lawyers.
One story published by the NY Times discussed a New York Law Journal article authored by Isidor Blum, a retired constitutional law professor at NYU, that concluded Romney was not a natural born citizen.  "Blum asserts that the framers of the Constitution intended to exclude all foreign born persons from the Presidency," the Times reported. The journal's editor, Myron Kandel, told the Times that it was "an extremely significant question" and that "dialogue is necessary." "What if Romney gets elected and the courts decide he can't be president?" Kandel asked.

By the time the campaign heated up in 1968, the Times speculated that a court case over the issue was imminent. It even quoted Romney advisers as saying the candidate himself was willing to test the issue in the courts if an opponent didn't file a case against him first. The conservative newspaper editor of the Manchester Union-Leader, William Loeb, was very vocal about his opposition to Romney's candidacy and threatened to take the issue to court himself to have Romney removed from the New Hampshire primary ballot if Romney moved forward with his campaign. In the end, Romney pulled out of the race two weeks before the nation's first presidential primary in New Hampshire as his support in public opinion polls plummeted before the case could be heard by a court, rendering the issue moot. The Secretary of State of Oregon had a pending request to his state's Attorney General to rule on the question of whether Romney should be removed from Oregon's ballot when Romney dropped his bid.

What's interesting about the newspaper articles that discussed Romney's eligibility was the open view that any citizen could go to court to challenge his eligibility to serve as president. With respect to Obama's eligibility, dozens of lawsuits brought by citizens and members of the military who questioned Obama's authority to serve as their commander-in-chief, have been summarily dismissed without hearing the merits of their legal argument on the basis that they lacked standing to challenge Obama's eligibility. One newspaper report actually cited the Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision upon which defenders of Obama's eligibility have relied to support their contention that he is a natural born citizen notwithstanding the fact that his father was a Kenyan national, making him a dual citizen at birth. The writer contended that the decision in that case meant only that Romney was a citizen at birth as a result of an act of Congress making children of U.S. citizens born abroad citizens at birth as opposed to a natural born citizen.

The "We The People of the United States" blog notes the disparaging way the New York Times has discussed persons raising questions about Obama's eligibility, always using the negative term "birther" to describe them. "She looks like a young Carol Channing, sounds like an overexcited Zsa Zsa Gabor, and has the ability to make absurd accusations with a completely straight face," the Times said of Orley Taitz, the attorney who has filed a number of lawsuits challenging Obama's eligibility. How's that for a sexist description of a Russian female immigrant from the politically correct Times? The Times criticized news organizations that had covered the issue of using "the risible pretext of needing to be fair to both sides of an issue about which there was nothing up for debate--at least not in the real world." The law certainly didn't change during the 50-year intervening period between Romney's 1968 campaign for president and Obama's 2008 campaign, only the way the Times and the rest of the media chose to frame the debate--at least as far as Obama was concerned. The Times had no problem publishing stories questioning John McCain's eligibility on the exact same basis that Romney's eligibility had been questioned by the newspaper 50 years earlier.

1 comment:

Downtown Indy said...

It would be as logical to take someone to task over taking a hard line against slavery even though they had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.

I respect Williams, but that was a bizarre way for someone to frame a question.