When asked about the false “birther” theory surrounding senator and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris at a news conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump amplified the legal conjecture by expressing uncertainty about her ability to assume the position.
“I just heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said, adding that the conservative legal professor who raised questions about Harris’ eligibility is “very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.” However, Trump noted that he had “no idea if that’s right” and assumed the Democrats would have done their due diligence before picking Harris.
Although the fact that Harris was born in the United States in Oakland, California, has not been contested, the theories surrounding her eligibility stem from the fact that both of her parents were immigrants. Harris was born to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, and is the first Black woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket alongside Joe Biden.
Conservative John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University, raised questions about Harris’ eligibility in an opinion piece published in Newsweek magazine. Eastman has suggested that the senator may not be eligible to be vice president if her parents were not permanent residents of the United States at the time of her birth. Eastman’s argument centers on the idea that if Sen. Harris’ parents were not under “U.S. jurisdiction” when she was born then she would not automatically be conferred natural born citizenship status. One must be a natural born citizen to be eligible to be president, and since the vice president is next in line to succeed the president, any vice president must meet this qualification, Eastman argues.
However, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Berkeley Law School, called Eastman’s conjecture “truly silly,” and pointed to the fact that the Constitution clearly states under the 14th Amendment that any person born on U.S. soil is an American citizen. According to legal precedent and constitutional scholars, Harris is eligible to be vice president.
Two other law professors from Harvard University and Loyola Law School have spoken against the opinion piece.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola, and Laurence Tribe of Harvard have both described the theory as “racist.”
President Trump also promoted falsehoods about former President Barack Obama’s place of birth, alleging that he was born in Kenya and therefore did not qualify to be be president. Interestingly, Trump never raised such an argument against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz when he became the final GOP opponent standing between Trump and the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Cruz was born in Canada, but Trump never questioned the senator’s eligibility to be president.