I still think Hillary wins the dubious distinction, but the competition for yesterday’s title seems to have been a bit stiffer than I thought. Via Patterico and Allah we learn that the New York Times has exhumed the time-dishonored debate that has dogged Chester Arthur, Lowell Weicker, Barry Goldwater and George Romney in the past: can you be a “natural born citizen” qualified for the Presidency if you were born outside the U.S.? The problem was obvious for Weicker and Romney, who were born in France and Mexico, respectively. It was more of a stretch for Goldwater, who was born in Arizona three years before it became a state but long after it had become a U.S. territory. Arthur was the most interesting of the four, as he was born in Vermont, whose status has yet to be determined. Now it’s an issue for John Sidney McCain, III, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone long before Jimmy Carter gave it away to Panama (but hey, he also gave us the Reagan revolution, so no hard feelings).
If you’re like most normal people, you’ve probably assumed that anyone born to one or more U.S. citizens is a “natural born citizen” for purposes of Article II, Section I of the Constitution. But according to the NY Times, there’s a “musty debate” on that question, even if they can’t find a single legal scholar willing to endorse the opposite view. Still, it’s noteworthy that while none of the individuals quoted in the article were willing ot endorse the view that only individuals born in U.S. state, none had the stones to dismiss it as frivolous, either. Allow me.
Let’s start with a brief civics lesson. Article II, Section I is part of the original Constitution, which was ratified in 1788 and took effect in 1789. Citizenship based on U.S. birth or birth to citizens abroad were soon codified in the statutes, but neither concept made it into the Constitution until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. This leaves us with two possible interpretations of “natural born citizen,” leading to two very different conclusions, to wit:
- A “natural born citizen” is whatever the statutes say one is. Therefore, Chester Arthur, Lowell Weicker, Barry Goldwater, George Romney and John Sidney McCain, III are or were all “natural born citizens” qualified for the U.S. Presidency.
- A “natural born citizen” is only what the Constitution says one is. Therefore, from 1789 through 1868, there was no such thing as a “natural born citizen,” and every President from John Tyler through Andrew Johnson was illegitimate. [Earlier Presidents get a pass since they were U.S. Citizens at ratification.]
MDS sufferers, pick your poison.
Between this and the eight-year-old non-scandal involving McCain’s legislative favors that were not given in return for non-sexual non-favors from his non-paramour lobbyist, I’m beginning to wonder if the Gray Lady really likes McCain after all, and figured that the best way to help him shore up his base is to attack him.