The following article was written by guest author Frank Arduini, aka “Historian Dude”. Frank has been engaging in a month long comment battle with Birther attorney Mario Apuzzo at the Western Free Press on an article about the eligibility of Ted Cruz. As one might have expected when Mario Apuzzo gets involved the discussion became all about the eligibility of Barack Obama instead of the subject of the original article. Of course Apuzzo thinks neither of them is a natural born citizen despite the fact that every Birther challenge against Barack Obama on eligibility including the ones Mr. Apuzzo has litigated have failed.
The number of comments there is approaching 3500! For your reading enjoyment:
Mario Apuzzo Esq.: Virtual Reality Litigator by Frank Arduini
Birther attorney Mario Apuzzo was, at one time, among the more active litigators of the birther movement. But after an unbroken string of failures at every level from administrative law courts to SCOTUS, Apuzzo “retired” in 2012 to the safety of the Internet where he is protected from genuine legal review or potential judicial sanction. In the subsequent two years he has committed hundreds of thousands of words online trying to argue and reargue the cases that he previously lost in court. And on the Internet (and especially on his own blog where he is a ruthless moderator and the sole judge) he always “wins.”
At the beginning of March 2015, Apuzzo was called out by name on the conservative blog The Western Free Press by author Greg Conterio challenging Apuzzo’s assertions that Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz was ineligible for the Presidency. The comments section quickly exploded in a generalized festival of birther/obot argument that as of this writing has lasted more than a month and garnered well over 3,000 posts. A significant part of the “discussion” has been an ongoing contest between Apuzzo and this author (posting under the UserID “HistorianDude”) focused on the central foundation of Apuzzo’s entire argument: that Article II of the Constitution defined “natural born citizen” not according to English common law, but according to an as yet undemonstrated “American common law” that had emerged between the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the Constitution. As part of this argument, Apuzzo has conceded that, under English common law the children of aliens born on national soil became natural born subjects. He has also conceded that the definition of NBC found in Article II of the Constitution is derived from “the common law.” But, he baldly asserts that the “common law” in question had magically (and anachronistically) been redefined to conform with a treatise on international law by the 18th century legal theorist Emer de Vattel.
Of course, any competent lawyer knows that this is not how common law is created. A nation may certainly incorporate other sources of law into their own via statute. But common law derives from case law, the judgments of previous courts that create legal precedent binding on those courts that follow. For the English common law definition of natural born citizen to have been altered or replaced by a new “American common law” definition, there must have been case law created during the eleven years between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that generated that change. And of course, this would have been a particularly neat trick since, under the Articles of Confederation there was no national judicial system at all wherein such case law might have been created.
For more than a month this author has repeatedly challenged Apuzzo to demonstrate the case law from between 1776 and 1787 that must exist for his alleged “American common law” to be more than fiction. Failing that, Apuzzo was challenged to identify a single English language document or source that agreed with his favored definition of natural born citizen. He has failed to meet either challenge.
Inglis v. Sailor’s Snug Harbor: An Inglis Lesson for Apuzzo
To fill the gap Apuzzo’s favored method of argument is to cite much later cases, often badly misrepresenting them, and insist that they somehow reflect a different common law than English common law. That “different common law” is then retroactively ascribed without evidence to Article II of the Constitution. It is a complete non-sequitur, on occasion demanding the violation of basic laws of physics. This essay is inspired by one such attempt.
After a month of frustration, and seeking desperately to shift the unmet challenge from his own back to that of his tormenter, Apuzzo brought up an 1830 inheritance case called Inglis v. Sailors’ Snug Harbor. He wrote:
“Since it is common law that you have requested of me, I have the following question. In Inglis v. Sailors’ Snug Harbor, 28 U.S. 99, 3 Pet. 99, 7 L.Ed. 617 (1830), the U.S. Supreme Court gave the scenario wherein the child was born in New York, after July 4, 1776 and when it was American territory, hence, before September 15, 1776, when the British took possession of New York, to a British father and mother. In that scenario, did the majority of the Court rule that he was an American citizen or an alien? Please explain what source the Court relied upon to come to its conclusion.”
Certainly Mario’s intention here was to use Inglis to assert that a different common law was in operation in the time period considered by the case. The standard birther misrepresentation of the case asserts that “the majority ruled that, even if the plaintiff had been born in U.S.-controlled territory, he was a British subject by birth and not an American citizen, due to the fact that his parents were British subjects, not U.S. citizens.” If that were true it would certainly support a claim that the common law had changed by the time the Inglis decision was made; i.e. by 1830. Since that hardly helps Apuzzo meet his challenge, missing the necessary time frame by some 43 years, I could be justified in making that observation alone and ending the discussion. But in actuality, exploring the birther misrepresentation reveals the case to be further evidence of the persistence of English common law through the Revolutionary period long after the Declaration of Independence, further narrowing the window within which Apuzzo’s unidentified case law would necessarily have to occur.
Let me begin the actual analysis of Inglis by taking Apuzzo’s counter challenge head on. I will directly answer his questions, and only then engage in the more comprehensive discussion that justifies the answers. Mario’s first question was phrased as a classic conservative dichotomy, an either/or question with two and only two options:
Q1: Did the majority of the Court rule that he was an American citizen or an alien?
Of course, in the real world things are rarely as simple as either/or. The answer to that question requires more subtlety than the question possessed when it was asked:
A1: The majority ruled that Inglis was an alien “at the time of descent cast.” They offered no ruling at all regarding his status at birth.
What does that mean? “At the time of descent cast”?
Inglis was an inheritance case in which a man named John Inglis was claiming a large inheritance from an American relative that might otherwise have been donated to a charity for aging sailors. One of the factors that would have derailed his claim was that under prevailing law, only US citizens could inherit land. So the citizenship status of Inglis was important to the case, but only his citizenship at the moment of actual inheritance; i.e. “at the time of descent cast.” It did not matter what his citizenship might have been one week prior or one week later. So since the direct issue before the court was whether or not he was a citizen at the moment of inheritance, which is the ruling the court made. The majority found that Inglis was an alien “at the time of descent cast” and therefore unable to inherit.
But we will see as this essay progresses that the court actually made no ruling at all regarding John Inglis’ citizenship at birth. The determination of his national character would, in the court’s opinion, be independent of the common or statutory law normally determinative of status at birth. This is because something special was happening at the time, the American Revolution.
Apuzzo’s second question was this:
Q2: What source did the Court rely upon to come to its conclusion?
Apuzzo’s intent here is twofold. First, he is fully aware (and I fully agree) that the source cannot have been the English common law. Secondly, he believes he has an ace up his sleeve in that one of the sources cited is, you guessed it, Emer de Vattel. It does not appear to occur to Apuzzo that the citation is to a section of Vattel’s book, which has nothing whatsoever to with the “definition” that he wishes to anachronistically graft onto the common law. Nor does he consider that Vattel is cited not as an application of common law, but as an application of international law. So again, recognizing the actual subtlety of the court decision, the direct answer (which will be explained in detail in a moment) is:
A2: As to existence of a general right for people to voluntary choose their allegiances during or immediately after a revolution their source was international law. As to Inglis’s subsequent nationality “at the time of descent cast,” their conclusion was based on the specific details of his actions subsequent to achieving majority as an adult, many years afterwards.
Apuzzo prefaced his questions with a reference to common law in the effort to position himself against the challenge to his imaginary “American common law.” Unfortunately, any genuinely careful review of the Inglis decision (or at least in the part of the decision relating to John Inglis’s nationality) quickly reveals that it had exactly nothing whatsoever to do with the common law.
Inglis v. Sailors’ Snug Harbor is one of a handful of early SCOTUS cases that dealt with unique circumstances of the Revolutionary period, a time in which the new United States and Great Britain were engaged in the bloody business of dividing into two separate and sovereign nations; a period of Anglo-American history sometimes called “The Great Divorce.” The circumstance of citizenship during a revolutionary transition was and remains completely unconsidered by the common law. There existed no body of case law with which to guide the Justices that pertained to a situation in which a single nation was splitting into two, and where the common law criteria of allegiance / citizenship / subjecthood were suddenly rendered ambiguous and arbitrary. As Justice Story pointed out in his worthy dissent, “The case of the separation of the United States from Great Britain… has been treated on many occasions, both at the bar and on the bench, as a case sui generis.”
The decision regarding John Inglis’ nationality did not rest on any application of the common law, nor did it create common law. Nor did it rest upon any existing statute. Instead it was built on the recognition that the unique circumstances of revolution necessarily but only temporarily suspended the common law and gave to each adult (well, each adult male at least) the temporary power of voluntary election for themselves and their minor dependents as to which of the two subsequent nations they would adhere.
The rationale for the suspension of the common law is found, to no one’s surprise, in treatises of international law such as Vattel’s Law of Nations. Justice Thompson specifically cites to Vattel, Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 33 where we read that those unaccepting of a new revolutionary government
“are under no obligation at all to submit to the new government: they may quit a society which seems to have dissolved itself in order to unite again under another form: they have a right to retire elsewhere, to sell their lands, and take with them all their effects.”
To modern sensibilities that sounds very much like any ordinary right to expatriate. In the 18th century however, it was a radical idea, and allowed only as the consequence of profound political upheaval.
Justice Thompson, writing for the majority, was explicit that prior to the Declaration of Independence the law of England as to citizenship by birth was the law of the English Colonies in America.
“It is universally admitted, both in the English courts and in those of our own country, that all persons born within the Colonies of North America, whilst subject to the Crown of Great Britain, are natural-born British subjects.”
Thompson was equally explicit that the end of the suspension was demarcated by a reassertion of the English common law. He was also quite clear that the window for election was a narrow one. And once the window was closed, the rules of English common law as to citizenship by birth returned to force.
To make this point, Thompson cited in detail the case of McIlvaine v. Coxe’s Lessee, 4 Cranch 211, wherein a Mr. Coxe had missed the window of opportunity to elect British subjecthood once the State of New Jersey asserted its obligation to provide “protection” via the Act of 4 October, 1776. Hence the window of opportunity for voluntary election remained open in New Jersey for a mere 3 months, at which point
“the doctrine of allegiance became applicable to his case, which rests on the ground of a mutual compact between the government and the citizen or subject, which it is said cannot be dissolved by either party without the concurrence of the other. It is the tie which binds the governed to their government, in return for the protection which the government affords them.”
These are of course the ancient rules of the English common law. The last sentence in particular is a touchstone proving a direct correlation to the formulation that William Blackstone reflected in his Commentaries in 1765 using much the same language, though not yet adjusted to reflect a republican government rather than a monarchy:
“Allegiance is the tie, or ligamen, which binds the subject to the king, in return for that protection which the king affords the subject.”
Thompson was equally clear that they were the post-fenestral rules not just in New Jersey, but elsewhere on US soil in those territories which were under the jurisdiction and the protection of the newly independent States.
In the case of New York, the specific “window of opportunity” was almost shockingly short. For the portion of the state not under British occupation, the window closed a mere 12 days after independence with the resolutions of the convention of New York of 16 July, 1776, declaring “that all persons abiding within the State of New York, and deriving protection from the laws of the same, owe allegiance to the said laws, and are members of the state.” But during that window (in the opinion of the court) John Inglis’ father Charles had made his election for both himself and his son. He elected that they would adhere to Great Britain.
For John Inglis himself, as a very young child, it was not a case of his state automatically following that of his father via jus sanguinis. His father deliberately made a provisional election for him as was his father’s prerogative as parent of a minor child.
This point cannot be stressed too firmly and it was made explicitly by the court; the election that Charles Inglis made for his son John was not permanent but provisional. The decision in Inglis did not declare that John Inglis was an alien at birth. It did not declare that his status “at the time of descent cast” was imposed through any automatic operation of common or statutory law. The court was instead clear that even for a minor child citizenship or alienage post revolution was ultimately dependent on a conscious election by the child himself, upon reaching his own majority, to either ratify or reject the provisional election made by his father. The fact that Inglis was an alien “at the time of descent cast” was not a result of the election made for him by his father in 1776. He could just as easily have ended up a citizen of the United States in spite of that election.
Inglis (the court opined) was British because Inglis chose to be British, not his father. The court concluded that Inglis had (by his actions if not his words) made the election to confirm a British character and reject an American one. By the time of this legal action, it had long been too late to change his mind.
The case certainly created no new common law, as it is clear that the window of election was a parentheses, on either side of which English common law operated in full.
Should it be argued that Inglis created new common law simply by virtue of being case law, any alleged common law it created can have had nothing to do with the general rules of birthright citizenship, or the specific definition of natural born citizenship? The case is completely silent on the latter, and English common law regarding the former was reasserted by the time that the revolution was over and the opportunity for voluntary election had ended. While Inglis (a case which was settled a half century after the Treaty of Paris) certainly shows that the rules of that limited window could be considered and applied long afterwards, even that possibility became moot upon the death of the last member of the “divorce generation.” It could conceivably had been useful again had the Civil War ended with a southern victory, but it did not. It could conceivably be useful should some unforeseen future fragmentation of the United States occur, but that is pure speculation. In the circumstances of a stable political regime, such common law would be entirely without application or affect, not to mention redundant.
This is (of course) the reason that the majority decision in Inglis has been largely ignored in subsequent discussions and case decisions on citizenship. It provides little of value that could inform general discussions or case decisions, limited as it is to a unique period of revolution that has never had a subsequent analog. So Chancellor Sandford’s decision in Lynch v. Clark, and Justice Gray’s decision in US v. Wong Kim Ark ignored the majority ruling from Inglis as a stone from which no edifying water could be squeezed, and instead relied on Justice Story’s worthy dissent.
Inglis therefore is useless today as a challenge to the English common law definition of natural born citizen that rules Article II of the Constitution, or for determining birthright citizenship during any era of normal national circumstance. The relevant common law for those purposes, English common law, was left untouched by the events of the Revolution and by the decision in Inglis v. Sailors’ Snug Harbor.