WASHINGTON — Roger Bredow insists he's no conspiracy theorist, no "tinfoil hat guy." Indeed, when he arrived outside the U.S. Supreme Court for a vigil Friday morning, he sported a red, white and blue Uncle Sam hat.
Inside, the nine justices were considering whether to take on a question that is roiling some conservative circles, and that has grown into something of an Internet cottage industry for folks like Bredow:
Is Barack Hussein Obama, by virtue of his birth, really eligible to be president of the United States?
Next week, the Electoral College will ratify the results of the November election. Imagine the consequences, Bredow says, if Obama is not supposed to be there. Any law Obama signed, any treaty, any action whatsoever he took while pretending to be president — invalid.
"I believe this decision is potentially bigger than Roe. It's the only time in history that a candidate has been elected and then the court has had to deal with this issue," Bredow said.
"It just infuriates me that a president is going to be put in office with so little transparency."
The case at hand was Donofrio vs. Wells, one of more than a dozen filed alleging that Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Leo C. Donofrio, an East Brunswick, N.J., lawyer, contends that Obama cannot be commander in chief because he is not a "natural born citizen." After losses at every level of the New Jersey courts, he turned to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Justice David Souter — known liberal — denied his appeal.
So Donofrio asked again. In mid November, Justice Clarence Thomas — known conservative —- agreed to bring it to the court's regular Friday conference, a secret meeting at which the justices decide which of the hundreds of appeals they will hear.
The slim chance the Supreme Court might act on this issue was enough reason for Bredow, 49, an affable Internet publisher, to drive 10 hours from Bethlehem, Ga.
He had received hundreds of thousands of hits and messages of encouragement while questioning Obama's citizenship on his Web page, www.wemustbeheard.com, and in a video he posted on YouTube.
"People started pounding on me, saying, 'What are you going to do?' " Bredow said. "And I said, 'Well, okay, why don't we do a march on the 5th up in Washington?' And so here we are."
All 19 of them.
His fellow skeptics included a mom and her teen daughter from Williamsburg, Va., a retired Marine from Virginia, a pilot from South Florida, and Pam, a young black woman from Texas who said she never bought the story that Obama was from Hawaii. "I have never heard him say 'Aloha,' " she said.
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One of the most remarkable things about Obama's historic run for the White House was that, through nearly two years of campaigning, he was dogged by the suggestion that he is somehow less than American.
As his inauguration nears, it's as if all the things designed to make the case — that he won't put his hand on his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, that he is actually a Muslim, that he wouldn't wear a flag lapel pin — have congealed here, at the U.S. Supreme Court, to make the ultimate argument: He isn't an American at all.
The root of this accusation lies in persistent allegations, spread mainly through the Internet, that he has refused to show a valid birth certificate, suggesting he was born not in Hawaii, but in his father's native land, Kenya.
The Obama campaign has produced a Certification of Live Birth and the state of Hawaii has verified it. Several independent fact-checking sites, including PolitiFact.com (a publication of the St. Petersburg Times), Factcheck.org and Snopes.com also have dismissed the rumors.
But they live on, in chain e-mails, fundraising pitches for right-wing groups like the U.S. Justice Foundation and lawsuits.
The most famous was filed by Phillip Berg, a Pennsylvania attorney who contends there's enough questions about Obama's birth at least to hold an inquiry, if not keep him from office.
That suit has been dismissed repeatedly, and the Supreme Court declined to hear it.
The Donofrio suit, by contrast, argues that even if Obama was born in Hawaii, he doesn't meet the Founding Father's definition of "natural born citizen" because his father was Kenyan.
Since Kenya was then under British rule, and Britain grants citizenship to children of its subjects, the suit argues that Obama has dual citizenship and "therefore, having been born with split and competing loyalties, candidate Obama is not a 'natural born citizen' as is required by the … Constitution"
Eugene Volokh, a constitutional law scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the standard is set by the 14th Amendment, which says anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen. It makes no differentiation for "natural born citizen."
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Outside court, Bredow and a dwindling band of supporters faced the cold, awaiting a sign.
He says he voted for Obama, but turned on him for cozying up to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state.
He and the others said it means nothing that questions about Obama's birthplace or citizenship have been debunked.
The mainstream media have ignored the issue, they say, investing none of the horsepower they harnessed to dig into the life of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican John McCain's running mate.
By 1 p.m., the justices had adjourned without saying anything about Donofrio.
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The word came down midmorning Monday: denied. No explanation, no comments.
Bredow got the news back in Bethlehem. He spent a couple of hours reading the court's rules, in search of an explanation.
"Donofrio wasn't what you would call a constitutional lawyer. He might have just goofed something up on the application," Bredow suggested.
Members of Congress still could call for hearings, he said. And he has heard about some anonymous fraternity brothers in Hawaii on the hunt for Obama's birth records.
"According to these guys — I guess they have to protect themselves legally — but according to these guys, they went to all nine hospitals in Honolulu, and they have not found Obama's name," he said. "So there's still other little things floating around there."
Monday afternoon, he received some good news from the Supreme Court as well: Justice Antonin Scalia agreed to take another case challenging Obama's citizenship, Wrotnowski vs. Bysiewicz, to conference on Friday.
Wes Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 463-0577.