Appeals court set to hear Obama 'birther' case May 2

A federal appeals court will hear arguments next week about whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and is ineligible to serve as president.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California will hear arguments on May 2 in the case of Wiley Drake v. Barack Obama. The court decided late last week it would hear 20 minutes of arguments from both sides. No specific date has been set for a decision. 

The case is a continuation of a dispute that was heard and dismissed in 2009 by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

Wiley Drake was California's vice presidential candidate for the American Independent Party in 2008, and Alan Keyes, another of the many plaintiffs in the case, was the candidate for president. As part of those proceedings, plaintiffs questioned the validity of Obama's social security number, and claimed that Obama had failed to produce a formal U.S. birth certificate.

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Obama's campaign released a birth certificate in 2008 to prove he was born in the U.S., but people in the so-called birther movement have continued to criticize the certificate. 

The arguments have made many in the Republican party uncomfortable, as some prominent Republicans believe the issue has the power to fire up Obama's base and could hurt the GOP in next year's elections. 

The skepticism that some have about Obama's status as a U.S. citizen is something that has split the Republican party, as most Republicans see this issue as one taken up only by fringe elements that many describe as "birthers." The fact that many Republicans have ignored arguments about Obama's citizenship is itself an element that may come up next week.

Among other things, plaintiffs are expected to argue that members of Congress, including Republicans such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), have failed to hold hearings about Obama's citizenship. Plaintiffs argue this leaves them with no way of pursuing their complaints except through the courts.

Markham Robinson, the chairman of the American Independent Party's executive committee, told The Hill a court decision clarifying which entities are responsible for determining presidential eligibility would be helpful.

"If it was supposed to be election officials, they didn't discharge their duty," Robinson said. "But a decision would make them do their duty next time. That would be constructive, and at least we know we'd accomplished something."

Robinson said a victory would be an appeals court decision that asks the California district court to reconsider its decision to dismiss the case. He said a loss in the appeals court could lead to a decision to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The California district court's dismissal was based in part on the idea that the powers of the judicial branch are limited, and should not be used to fulfill plaintiffs' demands that Obama should be removed from office.

"One of those limits is that the Constitution defines processes through which the president can be removed from office," wrote Judge David Carter, a Clinton appointee. "The Constitution does not include a role for the Court in that process. Plaintiffs have encouraged the Court to ignore these mandates of the Constitution; to disregard the limits on its power put in place by the Constitution; and to effectively overthrow a sitting president who was popularly elected by 'We the People' — over sixty-nine million of the people."

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