How a Legal Website ‘Fixed’ the 2008 Presidential Election

Barack Obama owes a big debt of gratitude to the legal web portal Justia. Without it, he might not be president today. You see, sometime around the time of the 2008 presidential election, Justia founder Tim Stanley “surgically scrubbed” some two dozen Supreme Court cases to remove references to Minor v. Happersett, the 1875 case in which the Supreme Court discussed the meaning of “natural-born citizen.” By so doing, Stanley enabled Obama supporters to overcome the claims of birthers that he was not eligible to be president.

That — as near as I can make sense of it — is the argument being made this week by various birthers, led by New Jersey attorney Leo Donofrio and his blog Natural Born Citizen, in what they are calling JustiaGate. In fact, Donofrio’s latest post goes so far as to suggest that this scrubbing was not limited to Justia, but was a conspiracy implicating Stanley, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org, and the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University. (This blog even gets mentioned for having written positively about Malamud.)

Stanley admits that some citations were mangled, but he told Declan McCullagh at CNET that the cause was a programming error, not a liberal conspiracy, and that the error extended to other cases beyond those that the birthers are focusing on.

“This has nothing to do with President Obama and it is not a conspiracy,” Stanley told McCullagh. “When we discovered the issue, we corrected the script and the cases now render correctly. The issue was not limited to the cases these folks are focused on. We’ve had internal discussions on how to make sure this does not happen in the future with additional visual and parsing checks.”

Even so, Donofrio is asking for a criminal investigation of Stanley. Exactly what crime he is alleged to have committed, I don’t know. Ever more baffling is how Donofrio sees this as affecting the outcome of the election. The closest I come to understanding his assertion is where he says this:

And the construction by the Supreme Court – in Minor v. Happersett – of the natural-born citizen clause could – had it been known to the nation at large prior to the ’08 election – have deprived Obama of access to the ballots should the several Secretaries of State been up to speed on the true history of this crucial Supreme Court precedent, a precedent which was completely ignored prior to the ’08 election.

I guess this is a back-handed compliment to Justia. Even though Justia is not the official reporter of Supreme Court cases, and even through there are any number of sources — commercial and free — of Supreme Court opinions, Donofrio believes that a glitch in a few old cases on Justia could have swayed the entire outcome of the 2008 election. I bet even Justia never knew it had become so central to U.S. legal research.

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5 Responses to “How a Legal Website ‘Fixed’ the 2008 Presidential Election”

  1. ellen says:

    It is important to stress that the Minor v. Happpersett case, that Donofrio claims said that two US citizen parents are required never said any such thing. When you read the ruling you can see clearly that the chief justice was simply saying that MINOR, the plaintiff, had two US citizen parents and was born in the USA and so there was no question that she was a Natural Born US citizen. It then quiet clearly said that there had been doubts as to whether others who did not have both parents and place of birth in their favor were also Natural Born Citizens. Then it said that it did not have to rule on this matter. In short, it did not rule on the matter. It was not a ruling.

    The Wong Kim Ark decision was a ruling, and it said clearly that EVERY child born in the USA (other than the children of foreign diplomats) is Natural Born. A Natural Born Citizen is simply a US citizen who was Natural Born.

  2. These two citizen-parent Birthers live in an alternate Reality. Their arguments are nonsensical, yet slowly but surely the “two citizen-parent” meme spreads through the country. It is a CULT.

    http://birtherthinktank.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/the-alternate-reality-universe-of-leo-donofrio-a-white-paper/

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  3. july0006 says:

    There is currently a discussion of the Minor v. Happersett going on with Mr. Donofrio and others at:

    http://jonathanturley.org/2011/10/23/holdings-dicta-and-stare-decisis/

    • i b wright says:

      the constitution says you have to be a “natural born citizen” and your argument is that being born in hawaii makes you a citizen,and that’s good enough?

      of course you think birthers are inane. of course you do

  4. Diderot says:

    The sheer inanity of the “birthers” is amazing. After all, there is a much stronger argument that John McCain was not eligible to be President, since he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which is not and never has been a state. Birthers would have a serious argument against McCain but bigots, racists and crazies that they are, they only are after Obama. They conveniently overlook the obvious fact that since Hawaii was made a state, being born in Hawaii makes you a citizen all by itself, no matter what nationality your parents were.

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