Sunday, November 02, 2008

The issue of McCain's "natural born" citizenship

I got an e-mail today raising the question of whether John McCain fully meets the requirements posed by Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States." Clearly, McCain has attained to the age of 35 years and been 14 years a resident within the United States. The issue is whether, because he was born outside the United States, he is a "natural born citizen."

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First, the basic facts about John McCain's birth:

  • John McCain was born on 1936-08-29 in the Colón Hospital in Colón, Republic of Panama. He was not born within the Panama Canal Zone, although both of his parents resided there at the time and his father was stationed there on active duty for the U.S. Navy.

  • Both of John McCain's parents were U.S. citizens at the time of his birth.

  • Both parents had previously resided within the U.S. proper.
The reason that people get so hung up on the question of where McCain was born, is that the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted to confer "natural-born" citizenship on anyone who is born inside the United States — even if, for example, the parents are illegal aliens or just plain tourists. However, that doesn't mean that anyone born outside the United States is automatically not a natural-born citizen.

Here is an excerpt from U.S. law concerning citizenship, specifically Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter III, Part I, Section 1401, paragraph (c):
The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth: [...]

(c) a person born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person [...] — 8 USC 1401 (c)
John McCain and his parents clearly meet those specifications. Therefore, John McCain was "a national and citizen of the United States at birth," which is precisely the obvious ordinary meaning of "natural born citizen." I don't know if that is exactly how the law read in 1936, but given the fact that McCain is a U.S. citizen who has never been "naturalized," that is clearly the way the situation has been interpreted. There are only two categories of citizenship: natural-born or naturalized. (Oddly enough, a high school teacher of mine was born in the Canal Zone, but did go through the naturalization process just to be sure he was legally a citizen.)

Thus, my firm conclusion is that John McCain is a "natural born citizen," and therefore meets the Constitutional requirements for eligibility to the office of President of the United States. What's next — questioning the "natural-born" citizenship of anyone delivered by Caesarean section? After all, they're not "natural-born" anything, as Macbeth learned to his horror. (Act V, Scene 8) McCain may be a "cream-faced loon" (Act V, Scene 3), but he is eligible to be President.

Incidentally, even if the false rumor that Barack Obama was born in Indonesia rather than Hawaii were true, he would still be a natural-born citizen by my reading of 8 USC 1401 (e).

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

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