Dr. John C. Eastman, a professor of law & community service and former dean at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek that questioned if Senator Kamala Harris is eligible to run on the Democrat ticket as vice president. This piece, which was tweeted by the Trump Campaign’s Senior Legal Advisor Jenna Ellis, and then took the news cycle by storm. Very quickly, pundits called this piece a conspiracy and a racist insult to Harris. It caused Newsweek to publish an Editor’s Note that responds to the accusations the piece is “an attempt to ignite a racist conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris’ candidacy,” and that the essay “has no connection whatsoever to so-called ‘birther-sim.’”
In Eastman’s opinion piece, he focuses on the 14th Amendment phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” which is one of the most debated parts of the Constitution. In the case of Harris, whose parents are from Jamaica and India and were not citizens at the time of her birth in Oakland, California, he focuses on whether or not her “natural born Citizen” status complies with the 14th Amendment based on the constitutional interpretation. Eastman says that at the time of her birth in 1964, since her parents were not naturalized U.S. citizens, one could argue she is not a “natural born citizen.”
Eastman says the Supreme Court has never decided that “anyone born on U.S. soil, no matter the circumstances of the parents, is automatically a U.S. citizen.” He continued that while “our government’s view of the Constitution’s citizenship mandate has morphed over the decades to what is now an absolute “birth on the soil no matter the circumstances” view—but that morphing does not appear to have begun until the late 1960s, after Kamala Harris’ birth in 1964.” Therefore, in order to determine her eligibility to run as vice-president, questions would have to be answered about her parent’s immigration status at the time of her birth. If they were “lawful permanent residents at the time of her birth,” then she would be a citizen. However, if they were temporary visitors, she would not be entitled to birthright citizenship.
Acknowledging the backlash his assertions would garner, Eastman said, “I have no doubt that this significant challenge to Harris’ constitutional eligibility to the second-highest office in the land will be dismissed out of hand as so much antiquated constitutional tripe. He continued, however, “But the concerns about divided allegiance that led our nation’s Founders to include the “natural-born citizen” requirement for the office of president and commander-in-chief remain important; indeed, with persistent threats from Russia, China and others to our sovereignty and electoral process, those concerns are perhaps even more important today.”
When asked about the claim that Harris is not eligible, President Trump said, “I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements. I have no idea if that’s right.” He continued, “I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run as vice president.” Jared Kushner, when asked about the essay by Fox News, declined to comment, saying, “I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen the op-ed. So I’ll reserve judgment on that until I know more about it.”
Law professors and lawmakers have been quick to jump on the accusations, stating that there is no question based on the Constitution and the 14th Amendment that Harris is not eligible to run as vice president. Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter, There are plenty of issues to find disagreement with @KamalaHarris regarding her record as Senator or as a Vice Presidential nominee. She is consistently rated one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate, fully embracing a radical Democratic agenda. However, there is no issue as to whether or not she is an American citizen. She was born in the United States in 1964 to parents who were legally present. Under the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, she is unequivocally an American citizen.”