By Mario Apuzzo, Esq.
Judge Robert R. Bent, Presiding Judge of the Vermont Superior Court, on November 14, 2012 dismissed the candidate Barack Obama Vermont ballot challenge of Paige v. Obama, Docket No. 611-8-12. He ruled that H. Brooke Paige does not have standing to bring the action, the court does not have jurisdiction, and his argument on the meaning of a “natural born Citizen” has no merit. The decision can be read at http://www.scribd.com/doc/113533939/VT-Paige-v-Obama-Et-Al-DeCISION-Vt-Super-Ct-Nov-2012 .
As to standing, Judge Bent ruled that Vermont has adopted the federal rule on standing which requires a litigant to satisfy both the requirements of Article III and its related prudential component. He explained that standing requires a litigant to show injury in fact, causation, and redressability. He concluded that Paige has not shown injury in fact. But Barack Obama has again won the general election. He now stands to win the Electoral College vote. Paige has adequately shown that his life, liberty, and property can be particularly injured by having to live under the authority and power of a person who may occupy the Office of President and Commander in Chief of the Military who may not be constitutionally eligible to be there in the first place for not being a “natural born Citizen.” Mr. Paige has adequately shown that the Founders and Framers required future presidents to be “natural born Citizens” to protect and preserve the nation. Hence, the clause is a national security measure designed to assure the safety of the nation. Needless to say, the “natural born Citizen” clause is intended to protect and preserve Mr. Paige and to provide for his safety and well-being. That the clause protects all Americans is no reason to deny Mr. Paige its protection in a legal action in which he seeks to have the courts enforce the clause.
Judge Bent did recognize that Vermont also has two statutes, 17 V.S.A. Sec. 2603(a)(3), which allows any legal voter to challenge an election after it occurs. He conceded that on its face, the statute does not limit itself to any particular election issue as the subject of an election contest. He also cited Sec. 2617 which provides: “In all cases for which no other provision has been made, the superior court shall have general jurisdiction to hear and determine matters relating to elections and to fashion appropriate relief.” But he distinguished these statutes and concluded that they only apply to activities occurring during the conduct of the election itself which could change the result of the election and not to presidential eligibility. But the statutes say no such thing and Judge Bent has written words into these statutes which the Vermont legislature did not write. Additionally, whether a candidate is eligible for the office he or he seeks does affect the conduct of the election and could surely change the result of the election. What could be more fundamental to the conduct of an election for any given office than whether a candidate is constitutionally eligible for the office he or she seeks? So, the legislature has specifically passed these two statutes which allow a voter such as Mr. Paige to challenge in the Vermont Superior Court a presidential candidate’s eligibility to be placed on the Vermont presidential election ballot and election to that office through the general election and the Electoral College.
Judge Bent also concluded that these Vermont statutes are no reason for the court to find that Paige has satisfied the requirement of prudential standing, which requires that a plaintiff’s claim is included in “the zone of interest protected by the law invoked.” He found that these statutes do not expressly allow a challenge by Mr. Paige to presidential eligibility and that to allow such a challenge in state court would produce “wholesale chaos and lingering uncertainty to presidential elections.” But such speculation is no reason to deny jurisdiction and to deny Mr. Paige a judicial forum for him to protect his constitutional rights. Our nation’s courts are more than capable to handle and coordinate complex legal matters. That the issue involves presidential eligibility is hardly a reason to conclude that our state courts cannot handle the matter. Moreover, given that the contested issue involves the presidential election, any state court decision on presidential eligibility would be fast tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court which would decide the matter for all the states. Hence, while the Vermont legislature has decided to confer standing upon Mr. Paige to bring his challenge to Obama in the Vermont state courts, Judge Bent has denied him that right.
Judge Bent also concluded that the Vermont state courts or any state courts have no jurisdiction over the question of whether a presidential candidate is constitutionally eligible because for a state court to get involved in the matter could potentially create national chaos. But such speculation is no reason to deny jurisdiction and to deny Mr. Paige a judicial forum for him to protect his constitutional rights. As we saw above, our nation’s courts are more than capable to handle and coordinate complex legal matters and any state challenge would be fast tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court which would decide the matter for all the states. Finally, Judge Bent was not sure whether Congress in joint session under 3 U.S.C. Sec. 15 has the authority to address the issue of presidential eligibility which would make the matter a nonjusticiable political question. Hence, without any say from the courts (both state and federal given the standing rule and the requirements of jurisdiction that he imposes) or Congress, Judge Bent does not allow for any means for resolving under the rule of law any question of presidential eligibility in our constitutional republic.
Standing and jurisdiction do not address the merits of a case. But Judge Bent also concluded that Paige’s argument as to what is an Article II “natural born Citizen” has no merit. Judge Bent erred just based on the text of the “natural born Citizen” clause. “It cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect, and therefore such construction is inadmissible unless the words require it….” Marbury v. Madison. 5 U.S. 137, 174 (1803). Hence, a basic rule of constitutional construction is that every word in the constitution must be given meaning. The Constitution says “natural born Citizen,” not “born Citizen.” Judge Bent is therefore wrong simply on the constitutional text when he says that anybody who is born a citizen is a “natural born Citizen.” There must be a reason the Framers added the word “natural” to “born Citizen.” The reason is that the clause is a word of art, an idiom, a unitary clause, which has a very specific fixed meaning. By adopting such a definition, Judge Bent has given the word “natural” no meaning and has confounded the proper interpretation of the clause by focusing on the result of being a “natural born Citizen” (born a citizen) rather than focusing on the word of art itself which has a very specific meaning. There is nothing about the clause which suggests that the word “natural” is surplusage and intended to have no effect. Hence, his interpretation “is inadmissible” and must be rejected.
Historical sources, case law of the U.S Supreme Court, and acts of Congress also demonstrate that Judge Bent has erred.