My, how Georgia’s political winds shift.
By last Wednesday, 93 state House members had signed on as co-sponsors to Rep. Mark Hatfield’s so-called "birther" bill, which would make presidential and vice presidential candidates prove their citizenship to make the state’s ballot.
The next day, more than 20 had crossed their names off the list. Several more did by Friday afternoon.
That same day, an op-ed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by local attorney and anti-birther blogger Loren Collins took more wind from House Bill 401’s sails.
The bill would require presidential candidates to sign an affidavit saying they have never held dual citizenship. This means the bill would create requirements for president that don’t exist in the U.S. Constitution, Collins wrote:
"There is not and never has been any constitutional rule mandating that the president ‘has never held dual or multiple citizenship.’ This is pure birther fantasy, a nonexistent bit of pseudo law that an attorney such as Hatfield should know better than to promote."
It sounds like the bill has a huge flaw. Is Collins’ claim true?
"Birthers" believe in the oft-discredited theory that President Barack Obama is not eligible for office because the Constitution says that a president must be a "natural born citizen." Obama was born in Hawaii, but many birthers think he was born in Kenya.
Obama was born to an American mother and Kenyan father. He had Kenyan citizenship and lost it. Kenya’s constitution grants citizenship to the children of Kenyans at birth, but those who are also citizens of other countries lose it at age 23 unless they take certain steps. Obama never took them.
We called Collins, author of the blog Barackryphal, who said he voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr in 2008, not Obama. He cited the Constitution’s Article II: "No Person except a natural born Citizen . . . shall be eligible to the Office of President."
This language does not and should not exclude candidates who are or were dual citizens, Collins argued. Foreign law decided who qualifies for dual citizenship, and foreign law should not decide who is eligible to be U.S. president.
We called Hatfield, who does not describe himself as a "birther," but wants more proof that Obama is eligible to be president.
Hatfield, a Waycross Republican, said the founders thought that presidents should be born in the United States, their parents should be citizens, and dual citizens should be barred to avoid foreign influence. That’s why the Constitution uses the term "natural born citizen" instead of "citizen."
Under Hatfield’s definition, Obama couldn’t be president.
Hatfield noted that in 2008, scholars debated whether Republican nominee for president Sen. John McCain was eligible because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, a Navy officer, was stationed there.
We presented Hatfield’s argument to legal experts on U.S. citizenship. They agreed that Hatfield’s concept of "natural born" citizenship makes little, if any, legal sense.
"If that [the bill] passes in Georgia’s Statehouse, it will be challenged and it will be struck down as unconstitutional. I am 100 percent confident," said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Hatfield’s bill contains a dual-citizenship ban that does not exist in the Constitution.
"It’s trying to add an additional requirement to the eligibility for president," von Spakovsky said.
The concept of "natural born citizen" is more complicated than it seems, scholars said. The founders did not clarify what the term meant, but experts have long interpreted it to refer to those who are U.S. citizens at birth.
Scholars agree that the Constitution’s authors intended to block naturalized citizens, or those who became citizens after their birth, from becoming president.
But the law has yet to be tested, Spiro noted. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue, and no candidate with dual citizenship or who was born outside the country has won the presidency.
That’s why scholars debated whether McCain was eligible for office. Since he was not born in a U.S. state, he may not have been a citizen at birth, some argued. But that debate was not about dual citizenship.
Emory University professor Polly Price explained. The United States adopted the concept of "natural born citizenship" from the English, Price said. For nearly 180 years before the Constitution was drafted, people were natural born citizens of England if they were born on English soil.
This understanding was widely accepted in the U.S. during the colonial period. People born in a colony were considered citizens of that colony, Price said.
"It may be that some of the founders intended to include only birth on U.S. soil as their understanding of ‘natural born citizen’, but it certainly would not have included that their parents also had to be U.S. citizens," Price said.
Collins is right. HB 401 does create eligibility requirements that aren’t in the Constitution. We rule his claim True.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "‘Birther’ bill won’t pass muster," March 4, 2011
Georgia General Assembly 2011, House Bill 401, accessed March 7, 2011
U.S. Constitution: Article II, accessed March 8, 2011
PolitiFact.com, Statements about Obama Birth Certificate, accessed March 7, 2011
PolitiFact.com, "Was McCain born in the USA?," May 12, 2008
FactCheck.org, "Does Barack Obama have Kenyan citizenship?," Aug. 29, 2008
The New York Times, "A Hint of New Life to a McCain Birth Issue," July 11, 2008,
The Washington Post, "Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge," Dec. 9, 2008
U.S. State Department, dual nationality information page, accessed March 7, 2011,
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "94 lawmakers back ‘birther’ bill," March 2, 2011
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "‘Birther’ bill losing support in House," March 5, 2011
Interview, Loren Collins, blogger, March 7, 2011
Interview, state Rep. Mark Hatfield, March 7, 2011
Interview, Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow, Heritage Foundation, March 7, 2011
Interview, Polly Price, professor, Emory University, March 8, 2011
E-mail interivew, Gabriel "Jack" Chin, professor, University of Arizona, March 8, 2011
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