Judge Jeff Mason Hears Challenge to Obama's Place on the NJ Ballot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012—Lawyers for Nick Purpura and Ted Moran, Petitioners, and for Obama for America, argued before Administrative Law Judge Jeff Mason in Mercerville this morning.
This was a frustrating case to watch, to argue, and to hear. The Petitioners' lawyer, Mr. Appuzzio, was hamstrung by the inability to bring exhibits that meet the full requirements for standards of evidence. That would have required bringing witnesses across state lines, or at least travelling to track the witnesses down to provide affidavits. One exhibit presented would have required a trip to Kenya to investigate and document the claim of a government minister that Obama was born in Kenya. Judge Mason tried to give the Petitioners as much leeway as possible in the presentation of evidence and testimony, but was eventually forced to channel the argument and the evidence within the limits of the case as defined.
The lawyer for Obama for America, Alexandra Hill, also seemed hamstrung by a limited arsenal. She raised the same objection at nearly every stage of the proceedings, and her argument was reduced, ultimately, to the claim that Barack Obama is not actually on the primary ballot, since the voters in the primary are actually voting for delegates, not for the candidate, and therefore laws requiring candidates to be qualified for office apply to the delegates, not the candidate.
This argument relies on a particular reading of the statutes, and only those with a legal understanding of them can guess whether it may carry the day. It has the virtue of not opening other questions which might be argued while having a chance of success. Nevertheless, there was speculation after the hearing that Ms. Hill may have made an error. In objecting to documents offered in support of Messrs. Moran and Purpura she argued that only documents bearing proper official seals or with proper attestations should be allowed in the official record. That is what the Petitioners argued with regards to the need for Mr. Obama to properly document his identity and natural-born citizenship. Because the response was made by an attorney for Obama for America, rather than for an arm of the Democratic Party, it might not be possible to hold the point against the candidate himself.
The deadlines imposed by election law require a written decision to be entered into the record no later than 10:00 AM on Wednesday, April 11. Judge Mason said he has agreed to inform the Secretary of State of his decision as soon as he makes it, and noted at the end of the hearing that he wants to scrutinize the relevant statutes and cases in all detail necessary before making his decision. He also noted that he would be reluctant to break precedent, even though it may not be binding on him or on the State of New Jersey.
Finally, the judge thanked Ms. Hill and Obama for America for appearing, noting that in other cases of this kind nobody appeared to make the case for Obama and the Democratic Party.
Barring some unforseen change in Judge Mason's reading of statue and precedent, it appears the decision will be disappointing to both sides. It is not likely that Barack Obama will be disqualified on the basis of faulty citizenship, but the decision may invite better enforcement of the requirements for candidacy for elected office, in New Jersey at least.