Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once told me my baby would never be president.
Imagine how that feels.
It was the spring of 1988 and we were attending a fundraising dinner for the Washington Opera, where my husband Francois was a perennial favorite. Once the opera season was over, we would be heading back to our farm in France to prepare for the next long absence, to the Glyndebourne Festival for the summer, where our baby was due to be born in early August. We would later calculate that Celine crossed the Atlantic Ocean five times before even being born. She was conceived in Galveston during a weekend getaway from the Houston Grand Opera; I learned I was pregnant in Toulouse during a run of “Cosi fan Tutte” with a very young Cecelia Bartolli; and I believe we came to Washington shortly after some production in San Diego. What a happy, hectic time it was.
The Lawyers Committee of the Washington Opera hosted the fundraiser, and showed their esteem for Francois by seating us at a round table with noted legal luminaries Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Harry Edwards, both at that time Federal judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and the aforementioned Justice Scalia, who had two years before been elevated to the Supreme Court. I was quite shy in such company, but Judge Edwards on my right seemed friendly and approachable, so I worked up the courage to address him:
“Excuse me, Judge Edwards, but I wonder if you can answer a question for us. I am an American by birth and also Swiss by naturalization. My husband is Swiss by birth and also French by naturalization. We live in France but our baby will be born in England. Do you know what our baby’s nationality will be?”
His eyes lit up and he excitedly called across the table. “Ruth! Here’s a situation for you: the mother’s American and Swiss, the father’s Swiss and French, they live in France but they’re having a baby in England: what’s the baby’s nationality?” His voice was loud enough so that all other conversations stopped and the assembled legal minds began to avidly weigh in on the issue. It was soon clear that no one knew the answer. That was when Justice Scalia asserted “Your baby will never be president”, with a twinkle in his eye and a tone that disinvited all contradiction. “I know”, I sighed meekly (while secretly harboring hopes for the European Union). Ruth Bader Ginsburg peered thoughtfully through her oversized glasses and suggested “You know, you ought to contact Abe Sofaer. He’s the general counsel at the State Department and I’m sure he could help you.” I thanked her and that ended the discussion.
It also ended my thinking on the matter, except for one call to the British Embassy, where an officious representative, apparently suspecting that we were concocting an elaborate ploy to give birth in the UK just for the purpose of obtaining precious British citizenship for our offspring, replied to my timid query, “No, in NO WAY will your child be British.” “Oh GOOD!” was my response to that. I couldn’t imagine bothering the general counsel of the State Department, nor had I any idea who else in that enormous bureaucracy I might address with our particular situation, so just put it out of my mind with the confidence of an American sure that if foreign babies born on American soil merit US citizenship, then the US citizenship of one parent must be strong enough to attach to an American baby born abroad, even if foreign soils weren’t “fertile” enough to confer their own nationalities by birth.
My naive confidence was borne out a month later when an official-looking envelope arrived at the farm. It was from Mr. Sofaer at the State Department. He included the letter that Ms Ginsburg had sent him: she had remembered our conversation and, no doubt correctly interpreting my diffidence, had taken it upon herself to inquire on our behalf. Mr. Sofaer informed us that our baby would be American, Swiss and French. And so it was that when Celine was born on Aug. 2, 1988 at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, she was issued a lovely birth certificate that in NO WAY conferred British citizenship. At the tender age of two weeks we were required to take her to the US Embassy in London, so that she could receive an Official Report of a US Citizen Born Abroad that has served in all situations where a US birth certificate has been required. She was propped up to pose for her passport picture so that we could take her back to France with us; Swiss and French passports followed later. The fact that she will never be president does not weigh on her or hamper her actual ambitions at the age of 22–although I happen to think it’s the country’s loss!
Today seemed like a good day to trot out my little name-dropping story. President Obama released the long form of his birth certificate, surely knowing that it will have little effect on the “carnival barkers” and conspiracy-addled brains of the haters. Now they will clamor for his college transcripts, as if graduating magna cum laude from Harvard as editor of the Law Review and writing two best-selling books by himself, and giving detailed off the cuff answers to unscreened questions at press conferences, town halls, and Republican pow-wows–all that doesn’t prove his intelligence and worthiness–to DONALD TRUMP?
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