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Birthers, Lawyers, Billables and Obama

We're a little late in addressing the "birther" movement, but the unending controversy over Obama's birth certificate has generated so much legal work that, try as we might, we couldn't ignore it anymore. A recent thread in the right-wing blogosphere has it that law firm Perkins Coie has billed Obama's lobbying organization more than a million dollars while trying to suppress lawsuits over Obama's eligibility to be president, an issue that has long been considered settled by the courts but continues to simmer on the Internet.

For anyone who has managed to avoid cable news for the past year, a little background:

The Constitution states that only natural-born citizens of the United States are eligible to become president. This came up from time to time over the years (see Chester A. Arthur, Barry Goldwater), but the 2008 presidential election presented the unique circumstance of two candidates whose far-flung birthplaces were hazy enough for their citizenship to be called into question. Arizona Sen. John McCain was born in a hospital in Colon, Panama, just outside U.S. territory in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed as a naval officer. Then-Illinois Sen. Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father with British citizenship and an American mother who would go on to raise her son in Indonesia. The brief controversy over McCain's citizenship was put to rest when Northern District of California Judge William Alsup dismissed a lawsuit challenging McCain's place on the California ballot in September 2008. But in spite of a widely-circulated copy of Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate and two Hawaiian newspaper announcements of his birth at the time, members of the so-called "birther" movement have continued to question the his eligibility to serve as president.

One of the leaders of the birther movement is a lawyer. And a dentist. And a realtor. Southern California-based Orly Taitz was born in present-day Moldova, but immigrated to Israel in 1981 and to the U.S. in 1987. According to Wikipedia, she earned her law degree via a distance-learning law program from Taft Law School in Santa Ana, Calif. Taitz continues to pursue her legal battle against the evidence, because, as she told Esquire:

I am extremely concerned about Obama specifically because I was born in Soviet Union, so I can tell that he is extremely dangerous. I believe he is the most dangerous thing one can imagine, in that he represents radical communism and radical Islam: He was born and raised in radical Islam, all of his associations are with radical Islam, and he was groomed in the environment of the dirty Chicago mafia. Can there be anything scarier than that?

Taitz has become the most visible face of the birther movement, braving the TV news gauntlet to shout about her theories and keep the controversy alive.

But back to Perkins Coie. D.C. partner and election law specialist Robert Bauer served as general counsel for the Obama election campaign, and continues to represent Obama on personal matters, like the Rod Blagojevich investigation. But Chelsea Schilling at conservative news Web site WorldNetDaily recently examined Federal Election Commission records for "Obama for America," showing that the lobby organization paid Perkins $1,352,378.95 from Oct. 16, 2008 through June 30, 2009. Schelling claims that Perkins Coie has been racking up the billables to quash birth certificate challenges, citing letters Bauer sent to plaintiffs Gregory Hollister, a retired Air Force colonel, and political activist Alan Keyes, who have both filed suits challenging Obama's eligibility. There's no breakdown of how those costs have been allocated, so there's little indication that any serious money has been spent specifically to have Obama's lawyers battle the birthers, but that hasn't stopped WorldNetDaily and a blog known as Citizens Against Pro-Obama Media Bias from trying to connect those dots anyway. 

Still, against all logic, Bauer might have another eligibility lawsuit to deal with soon enough. Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz. (sponsor of the 2004 Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act), said just last week that he's considering filing his own suit to have the president release his birth certificate.

Posted by Laurel Newby on August 27, 2009 at 07:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

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