Birther Control

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Though Donald Trump has given the birther issue new life, so to speak, those who doubt President Obama’s citizenship were dealt a blow last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Ms. Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have required presidential candidates to prove their citizenship in order to be on the state’s ballot. Candidates could have fulfilled that requirement by providing a long-form birth certificate or certificates of baptism or circumcision.

Ms. Brewer herself is no stranger to controversy, having been signatory to the state’s divisive immigration bill. But this measure, she felt, went “a bridge too far.”


Supporters of the initiative argued that the law was simply meant to preserve the integrity of the nomination process. But Ms. Brewer pointed out that the law would have given sole authority over the process to the Arizona secretary of state. “As a former Secretary of State,” she wrote in an explanatory letter, “I do not support designating one person as the gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate, which could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions.” She also labeled it a “distraction.”

Even if Ms. Brewer had signed the bill, it isn’t clear whether it would have survived a court challenge. Some believe it adds to the requirements laid out by the U.S. Constitution and therefore would have been struck down. Moreover, the current secretary of state noted that the bill could have forced independent candidates off the ballot, since it technically called for a candidate’s national party to provide the documents in question.

While similar bills have been introduced in a handful of states, only Arizona’s has so far survived the legislative process. Still, by focusing on Mr. Obama’s origins, the birthers miss the much larger picture. Next year’s election isn’t just an opportunity for conservatives to vote Mr. Obama out office. It’s also a chance to repudiate his agenda, which is larger and more threatening than him alone.