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Obama Releases Birth Certificate: What's the Law?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on April 27, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Obama birth certificate is officially out, with the President caving to detractors who have continually asserted that he was born in Kenya, not in Hawaii, making him ineligible for office.

If you're wondering why it even matters whether he was born in the U.S. or abroad given that his mother was a U.S. citizen, it has to do with one little constitutional clause and a whole lot of common law interpretation.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states that "No person except a natural born Citizen...shall be eligible to the Office of the President."

The entire Obama birth certificate fiasco rests on the interpretation of just what is required to be a "natural born citizen."

Though interpretation and law have varied over the years, courts have generally adopted a meaning that comports with English common law, as that is what was intended by the founding fathers.

According to the Congressional Research Service, English common law dictated that every child born in England, regardless of parentage, was a natural born subject.

This means that if President Obama was born in Hawaii, he is a natural born citizen.

However, the law is less clear about whether a person can be a natural born citizen if he was born to a U.S. citizen while abroad, which is at the center of the Obama birth certificate debate.

It's clear from federal law that these people are U.S. citizens, but there is a question of whether they are naturally born.

In 1790, the first Congress enacted a law that defined the term as including persons born to U.S. citizens abroad. Between this act, common law principles, and Supreme Court statements, the Congressional Research Service has found that the majority of constitutional scholars believe that President Obama, regardless of where he was born, is a natural born citizen.

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