de Vattelist . . . er . . . de Vatteler

-gate     Noun suffix denoting a scandal of tremendous proportions.

First, there was Watergate.  I don’t even have to go into the details because everyone knows them.  The Watergate complex was the scene of a national scandal that took down a president.  With the beauty of a living language, -gate became a suffix that rendered any word a name for a scandal.

There is even an extensive Wikipedia entry that lists the various –gates that became part of our public discourse and includes such interesting facts as that –gate was even used in foreign countries to indicate a scandal.  In our country, there was Billygate in the 70s.  There was Contragate in the 80s.  The Clintons alone in the ‘90s spawned a slew of  –gates all on their own, including Whitewatergate, Fostergate, Travelgate,  and Lewinskygate or Monicagate.  It seemed to me for a while that a new –Clinton suffix might become interchangeable with –gate, as in, “Did you hear about the Monicaclinton scandal?”  My personal favorite from this century is Toiletgate, which occurred during the 2006 World Chess Championship.  One of the participants accused the other of visiting the toilet suspiciously often during the match.

Time and the English language march on, and with our new sophistication in our new millennium, there is a new suffix that the ambiguous “they” are attempting to add to our language.  Actually, it is an old suffix which is being given an additional meaning:  -er.  -er is a suffix which being used to indicate that whatever word to which it is appended represents a person with a point of view that is so extreme that you need not even look at the details to know that it is off-the-charts ridiculous.

It began with the “truthers.”  Those are the people who don’t believe that Muslim extremists blew up the world trade center.  They believe that members of the Bush administration either planned and executed it, or knew about it and let it happen, while a compliant media effected a cover up.  Even if you ignore the problems with attributing this to our government, anyone who thinks that the media would cooperate with George Bush has probably been partying with Charlie Sheen too much.  That’s why these people are known as truthers.

With the success of expressing so much with adding a simple “-er” to the end of “truth” came the birth of “birthers,” or people who believe that Barrack Hussein Obama was not born in Hawaii.  The –er has done its job once again because these people are deemed to be as far out as the truther without even knowing any facts about the reality.

Evidently, it is ridiculous to assume that a possibly unmarried mother bearing the child of an already married or bigamist African in the 1960s would have made sure that her child was born in America in appearance if not in fact, and that a government official would mislead the public decades later.  Let us assume that this is truly ludicrous.

The de Vattelists, er, de Vattelers could also assume this to be truly ridiculous and still not have their issue addressed.  In labeling them –ers instead of –ists, and lumping  them in with birthers, you can ensure that no one checks the details.  Call them “birthers,” even though they are quite willing to admit that Obama was born in Hawaii and that all of what he says about his birth is true.

They are named after Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss philosopher, diplomat, and legal expert from the 1700s who wrote a book in French, which translated into English as Law of Nations.  This book was, according to Benjamin Franklin, one of the books that the Constitutional Convention kept a copy of to refer to when writing the Constitution.  Many famous statesmen before and after the revolution, including Supreme Court justices, quoted de Vattel in many kinds of documents.

In Chapter 19, section 212 of the first volume of this book, de Vattel said something in French which was translated in the 1760 English version as, “The Natives, or indigenes, are those born in the country of parents who are citizens.”  In 1797, the new translation stated, The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens.”

There is a compelling argument that this definition of “natural born citizen,” a person born in the country of parents who are citizens, was what was intended by the requirement that the President be a natural born citizen.  If this were the case, it means that Obama, whose father never was a citizen of the United States, is not eligible to be President according to the Constitution’s authors when it was written.

The other side of the argument is that “natural born citizen” simply means born in this country, based on English Common Law.  Anchor babies, by this definition, are natural born citizens.

The idea that the founders intended that “natural born citizen” was a person born in the country of parents who are citizens is crazy, off-the-wall talk, right?  It’s so crazy that NO major media outlet, cable or network, has covered it up until now, instead simply raving about the insanity of collective birthers.

The Supreme Court could clear the matter up with a ruling as to the meaning of natural born citizen.  They have not to date.  Although they gave us anchor babies in 1898 in United States v. Wong Kim Ark by ruling that a person born in the United States to foreign parents is a United States Citizen, they did not call Wong Kim Ark a  natural born citizen.

The closest that any court came to speaking about the meaning of a natural born citizen was in Lynch v. Clarke in a New York District Court in 1844.  The judge in the case, Lewis Sandford, took “natural born” by the horns in saying: Suppose a person should be elected President who was native born, but of alien parents, could there be any reasonable doubt that he was eligible under the constitution? I think not.”  The quoted excerpt is dicta, which means that it was a personal opinion which did not play a part in the decision of the case.  It can be viewed as the equivalent of an 1844 judge’s blog.  No court is bound to follow it, including Judge Sandford’s New York court.  In 2044, if you asked a judge, “Suppose a person should be elected president who was born while his or her mother was in New York having purchased an Anchor Baby Package, but was raised in his or her parents’ country.  Could there be any reasonable doubt that he or she was eligible under the Constitution?”  I wonder if the answer would still be, “I think not.”

In the case of birthers who question Obama’s birth place, there is only one person who can clear up the confusion, and that is Obama.  Instead of spending hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to hide whatever it is he is hiding on his birth certificate, he could tell the state of Hawaii to release a long form copy.

In the case of the de Vattelists, er, de Vattelers, who raise a definition issue, clarification requires multiple individuals—the Supreme Court  Justices.  They are the only ones who can clarify the meaning of “natural born citizen” in the Constitution.  The hundreds of thousands of words “blogged, texted, twittered or otherwise massaged” about both sides of the issue have not settled anything legally, with all due respect to Judge James Robertson.

Personally, I think that the Founders intended that the President be born in this country to parents who are citizens.  I think that they felt that this meaning was so clear that they had to define it no more than they had to define what the meaning of the word “is” is.

However, I am not a Supreme Court Justice.  In this day and age, some Supreme Court Justices feel that the Constitution should not be interpreted by the Founders intent, but by the Justices’ opinion of current thought.  Additionally, even a Justice examining the Founders’ intent might decide that they intended only “born in this country.”  I’m not sure, if the issue came to the Supreme Court, which way the definition would go.  All I know is that the Supreme Court should stop hiding and hear a case.  Either definition of “natural born citizen” would be preferable to the confusion and of uncertainty now in existence.

And in this “era of greater civility,” people should not be mocked as –ers when they have a valid legal argument.

Published in: on April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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