PHOENIX | The state of Arizona has moved onto contentious political territory once again with the legislative passage of a bill requiring President Obama and other presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship before their names can appear on the state’s ballot.
Opponents say Arizona’s bill, approved late last week, gives the state another black eye after lawmakers approved a controversial immigration enforcement law last year.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who has until the end of business Thursday to act on the proposal, declined to say whether she would sign the measure, which would make Arizona the first state to enact such a requirement.
“That bill is an interesting piece of legislation. I certainly have not given it a whole lot of thought with everything that’s been on my plate,” said Mrs. Brewer, a social conservative who has vetoed four bills and signed more than 100 others since the legislative session began in January.
If she does sign, a court could possibly have to decide whether the president’s birth certificate is enough to prove he can legally run for re-election.
Hawaii officials have certified Mr. Obama was born in that state, but so-called “birthers” have demanded more proof.
Opponents also point to other actions they believe have affected the state’s reputation, including the consideration of legislation asserting state rights.
“Arizona is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. We’ve cut school funding. And they pass a bill questioning Obama’s citizenship? For real?” Democratic state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix said Friday.
Republican state Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix, the bill’s author, said the president’s birth record wouldn’t satisfy the requirements of his proposal and that Mr. Obama would have to provide other records, such as baptismal certificates and hospital records. But Mr. Seel said the measure wasn’t intended as a swipe against the president and instead was meant to maintain the integrity of elections.
“Mr. Obama drew the question out, but it’s not about him,” Mr. Seel said, noting his bill would also require statewide candidates to complete an affidavit showing they meet the qualifications for those offices, which include U.S. citizenship.
The U.S. Constitution requires that presidential candidates be “natural-born” U.S. citizens, be at least 35 years old, and be a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.
But the term “natural-born citizen” is open to interpretation - and many bloggers, politicians and others have weighed in.
No one knows for sure what the term means, said Gabriel J. Chin, a University of Arizona law professor who is an expert in citizenship and immigration law. “Natural-born citizen” was modeled after a phrase used in British law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never defined it, he said.
Birthers have maintained since the last presidential election that Mr. Obama is ineligible to hold the nation’s highest elected office because, they argue, he was actually born in Kenya, his father’s homeland. Mr. Obama’s mother was an American citizen.
Hawaii officials have repeatedly confirmed Mr. Obama’s citizenship, and his Hawaiian birth certificate has been made public. Even though the courts have rebuffed lawsuits challenging Mr. Obama’s eligibility, the issue hasn’t gone away.