What is the point of constitutional requirements for holding office?

April 27th, 2011

Yes, now we have the birth certificate, so this issue is¬†hopefully, at long last, dead (though I’m sure hard-core skeptics will continue to doubt its authenticity). My question is more jurisdictional. Every single law suit challenging the President’s natural born citizen status was tossed on standing ground. What is the point of constitutional requirements for holding office if there is no way to challenge it?

Let’s think of a different example. Article II requires that the President must be 35. Let’s say a person runs for President, and he wins. Skeptics claim he is only 34 years old (he would then be eligible for his second year in office, but I’ll put that aside for now). The President claims he is 35. The only way to prove the veracity of this, presumably, is with a birth certificate! Assume the President refuses to release his birth certificate. Putting aside birther conspiracy theorist nutjobs, there would be no way to challenge the candidate’s eligibility for office. There is no way for a Court to order the relevant organization to release the birth records. What if no records exist (assume there was a fire or something, though that is less likely in the digital age). There is no way to know, as all suits are dismissed on standing.

So, what is the point of constitutional requirements for holding office? They are totally unenforceable in our courts.

I seem to recall a case where a member of Congress was elected, and he was not yet 25 (this was in the 1800s). Congress refused to seat him pursuant to Article I powers (like Powell v. McCormack). This could not be challenged in court, as it is was political question (the displaced member did have standing). A similar check does not exist in the context of Presidential elections, unless the Electoral College can exercise such discretion. No one would have standing, save the President if he was not appointed (I think).

For what it’s worth, the case I mention was resolved in the Court of Claims, as the elected member who was not seated sued for his unpaid salary (I don’t remember the outcome, I will have to look it up when I get a chance).