Presidential Oddities: “Natural born Citizen” what does it mean exactly?

April 3, 2015

seal-presidential-colorThe Constitution of the United States (Article II, Section I) outlines minimum qualifications a person must meet to be eligible to serve as the President of the United States. The Constitution states that to be President a person must,

  • Be at least thirty-five years of age
  • Have at least fourteen years of residency in the United States
  • Be a natural born citizen.

Over the years the first two have never been an issue. The last condition of being a “natural born Citizen” has several times been contentious.

It’s all in how the clause in the Constitution is interpreted. Some think it means born within the borders of the United States. The Constitution did not define “natural born Citizen”, and the Supreme Court has never ruled on its meaning. The vagueness has been used for political purposes by many opponents of the candidates.

Taken literally it would mean no one born outside the borders of the United States could be president. Scholars of the Constitution do not believe this to be the true intent. Most believe natural born extends to anyone born to U.S. citizens no matter where the birth occurred. To clarify the clause once and for all recommendations have been made to amend the Constitution.

In the race to the 2016 Presidential Election another example has arisen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who recently announced his candidacy was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He was born to an American mother and a Cuban father. Under U.S. law he automatically became an American citizen at birth because one of his parents was a citizen. Is this considered natural born? Therein is the ambiguity of the Constitutional clause. Without an amendment or a Supreme Court ruling the parameters of the clause remain uncertain.

Here are some examples of history,

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was born in Austria to Austrian parents. Because neither parent was an American citizen he was not an American citizen at birth. He attained citizenship by naturalization after he immigrated. It is clear he would not be eligible to be president unless the Constitution was amended to enable it.

Senator John McCain of Arizona was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Both his parents were American citizens and also he was born on an American military base. Some questioned his qualifications when he ran in 2008, but in the end most agreed he met the natural born criteria. In fact in April 2008 the Senate passed a resolution declaring that McCain was a natural born citizen under the Constitution. This may have reassured many, but it had no real legal significance.
McCain Ineligible to be President?

Back in 1964 the natural born issue was raised against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. He was born in Arizona prior to statehood. Arizona at the time was only a territory. Therefore was he natural born? Once again this was never resolved. Had he become president it may have been challenged in the courts.

Once again in 1968 legal actions threatened candidate George Romney, former Governor of Michigan, who was born in Mexico. Although he was born to parents who were both American citizens many arguments against his eligibility were made. His candidacy was unsuccessful and again no court ruling resulted.

During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Elections so-called “birthers” challenged Barack Obama’s natural born credentials. In his case he was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan born father. They even argued that he wasn’t born in Hawaii an American state since 1960, but actually in Kenya. The State of Hawaii produced a copy of his birth certificate.

President Chester Arthur ascended to the Presidency on the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. His opponents dogged him with the issue of not being a natural born citizen.

He was born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont according the family bible held by the U.S. National Archives, but no birth certificate exists. His father was Irish born and emigrated to Lower Canada, present day Quebec in 1818. Arthur’s mother was born in Vermont. They were married in Lower Canada in 1821. They moved to Fairfield in 1828 where Chester was born. The family’s many moves led to accusations Chester Arthur was not a natural born citizen of the United States. Once again these claims were never ruled on or proven.
Illegal President? Chester Alan Arthur.

To clarify and rid American politics of these arguments Sarah Helene Duggin from the Catholic University of America, who is an acknowledged expert on this topic believes the Constitution should be amended. The issue is not going away and is likely to arise again in the future.

What if someone is elected or becomes President and someone files in court to have them removed from office because of the natural born clause. If this filing is ruled legitimate and proceeds then what happens until the ruling is made? Does the person still continue be president or are they removed until a ruling is made? What if the ruling goes against the sitting president? As you can see confusion and potential gridlock may result. This is the reason most Constitutional scholars such as Ms Duggin believe the solution is an amendment.

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Hillary Clinton and the Super-Delegates

April 23, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s big primary win yesterday in Pennsylvania kept her hopes alive for the Democatic Party nomination. She still trails Barack Obama in pledged delegates, but the gap has been closed. The big question is what impact the so-called “super-delegates” will have on who the final nominee with be. Super-delegates are made up of Democratic Senators, Representatives, party officials, former Presidents, etc. These delegates are not decided or assigned by the primary results. They can vote as they wish. Normally they don’t vote until the convention and there are several hundred of them. (Above: Hillary Clinton after Pennsylvania primary, AP Photo)

Most of all she has demonstrated she can carry the big states like Ohio, New York, Texas, California, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which she won the primaries in.

If the goal of the Democratic Party is to win the general election against the strong Republican candidate John McCann, then they need to consider Hillary’s ability to win those states having the most Electoral College Votes. Remember that winning the popular vote has nothing to do with winning the presidency. The candidate winning the majority of Electoral Votes wins. Here is the breakdown of Electoral Votes up for grabs in the large states in the general election:

California – 55
Florida – 27
Michigan – 17
New York – 20
Ohio – 20
Pennsylvania – 21
Texas – 34
Total = 194

You can see that if a candidate can carry all the large states they would be well on the way to reaching the magic number of 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency. This certainly doesn’t dimish the importance of those states having smaller numbers of Electoral Votes because they would have a major impact in a tight election.

The most populous states have the most Electoral Votes because the number of Electors a state has is equal to the number of Senators and Representatives that states sends to Washington as elected officials. The total number of Electoral Votes is 538. A winning candidate in the general election has to win 270 (one more than half).

By winning the primaries in those states with the most Electoral Votes available in the general election Hillary Clinton hopes to be able to convince the unpledged “super-delegates” to support her. If she can do that, she will win the nomination.


Barack and Hillary: Showdown in Texas and Ohio

February 29, 2008

March 4, this coming Tuesday – will it solve anything in the race for the Democratic nomination? Primaries and caucuses are taking place in Texas and Ohio, key states because there are large numbers of delegates at stake. Neither state is a winner take all election. The allocation of delegates to the candidates will be based on percentage of the vote in the primaries. This means that unless one candidate wins an overwhelming percentage of the votes the total delegate count will still be very close. Right now in the polls, Obama and Clinton are running virtually neck and neck in both states.

Texas has 193 delegates at stake in their primary and Ohio has around 100 so you can see there is a lot at stake here in the race to reach the magic number of 2,025 needed to win the nomination. It appears that this race might have to be decided at the convention it is so close.

Clinton desparately needs a convincing win in either Texas or Ohio or she may face elimination. Obama on the other hand might be able to take an insurmountable lead should he win a large percentage in one or the other. I don’t believe that will happen, but watch closely to see if one or the other can deliver a knockout blow. Democrats need to get this race decided so they can focus on the apparent Republican nominee John McCain, instead of fighting each other.


McCain Ineligible to be President? You be the Judge.

February 28, 2008

aboutmccain_picts_1.jpgThe New York Times published an article February 28, 2008 by Carl Hulse that may throw the proverbial wrench into Republican John McCain’s bid to become President of the United States. (left: photo of Senator McCain campaigning. Taken  from his website.)

McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 to American-born parents. The Canal Zone was a Territory of the United States, not a State or even a Possession. His birthplace was a U.S. military base within the Zone.

The Constitution of the United States states that to be eligible to be President a person must be “natural born”. The exact wording is found in Article II, Section 1 of the 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.”

Most Constitutional experts seem to feel that McCain would win any court challenge, but clearly a challenge could prove messy and the outcome unpredictable. If it was legally challenged before or during the election it could hurt his election chances, and a challenge after his inauguration could prove disastrous for the country. What would happen if he became president, a challenge was mounted and the Supreme Court ruled against him? He would be forced to resign the presidency or be removed from office. What a shocking development that would be.

The crux of the issue relates to the definition of “natural born Citizen” in the Constitution. This would be the clause that the legal interpretation would hinge on. Several things should be in his favor in any challenge,

1) The Panama Canal Zone was a Territory of the United States. Anyone born there would likely be considered “natural born”.

2) He was born on an America military base. Surely this would be considered American soil by the court.

3) He was born to parents who were both “natural born Citizens”, that is they were born in the contiguous fifty United States of America.

If there is no challenge, at the minimum it should be clarified at some future date simply to avoid confusion. Some interesting factoids illustrate confusion that has already occurred. Fortunately, nothing major has occurred to date. However, McCain is a formidable candidate who has a very strong chance of becoming president.

  • Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was the Republican nominee for president in the 1964 election. He was born in 1909 in the then Arizona Territory, three years before it became a state.
  • George Romney who was a presidential candidate in 1968 was born in Mexico. Sure seems to me this wouldn’t meet the criteria, but again it wasn’t tested, likely because he didn’t become the nominee of his party.
  • FDR, Jr. who once considered running was born on Campobello Island in Canada was definitely ineligible in my opinion. 
  • President Chester Arthur, whose official birthplace was Vermont, was rumored to be Canadian born. The only official proof of his place of birth is an entry in the Arthur family bible held by the Library of Congress. In fact it is very likely he was not eligible to be president. He was challenged on the issue, but never legally. See my posting in the archives of this blog which delves into that issue.
  • Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has aspirations to be president. He was born in Germany. He has been told he is not eligible, but what about George Romney in 1968. Why was he even eligible to run when he was born in Mexico?

If a challenge is mounted this year against McCain look for a special sitting of the Supreme Court to quickly resolve the issue one way or the other. To have a major controversy develop during this important presidential election would be untenable.

Further Reading:
Constitution of the United States of America, Article II, Section 1

New York Times, February 28, 2008, Carl Hulse
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/politics/28mccain.html


Barack or Hillary? Watch Ohio and Texas

February 20, 2008

It appears that the upcoming primaries in delegate-rich Ohio and Texas could determine the winner of the Democratic nomination for president. If it doesn’t then there is a strong possibility that the nominee will not be decided until the convention to be held August 25 – 28, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.

The delegate standings as of today from CNN Election Central,

Barack Obama
Pledged  –  1,140
Superdelegates – 161
Total – 1,301

Hillary Clinton
Pledged  – 1005
Superdelegates – 234
Total  –  1239

Total needed to win – 2,025

As you can see this is still very much a horse race, but they are entering the home stretch. March 4, 2008 is the date of the Ohio and Texas primaries. The results of these may be the turning point for the candidates. Both are now campaigning hard in those key states. Stay tuned to see who will be running for president against the apparent Republican nominee Senator John McCain.


Who Will Be President of the United States?

February 14, 2008

The Democratic race is still very much in doubt, but momentum seems to be with Barack Obama. The next big test is March 4th with delegates in  two key states Ohio and Texas at stake. These states both have large blocks of delegates. Should either Clinton or Obama win both of these it might decide the race. Here are the delegate standings to date from CNN Election central,

Hillary Clinton: Pledged 977, Superdelegates 234 for Total 1211

Barack Obama: Pledged 1096, Superdelegates 15 for Total 1253

Needed to Win Nomination: 2,025 (Superdelegates votes mean more than regular delegates. They could actually overrule the regular delegates. They are usually senators, congressmen, or other elected officials.) This is an extremely close race. There is a very strong possibility that the nominee will not be selected until the party convention.

For the Republicans it is very different. Senator John McCain is virtually assured of the nomination. It is only a matter of time. Here are the standings from CNN Election central,

John McCain: 801, unpledged 26 for total of 827

Mitt Romney: 286, unpledged 0 for total of 286 (Romney is now out, but has not endorsed any candidate.)

Mike Huckabee: 214, unpledged 3 for total of 217

Ron Paul: 16, unpledged 0 for total of 16

Needed to Win Nomination 1191. The Republicans do not have Superdelegates. Senator McCain’s lead is insurmountable now. He will be the nominee. He only has to select a vice presidential running mate. This will likely not be done until the convention, or until Huckabee and the others officially drop out of the race.

History will be made in Election 2008. One of the following will be historic,

1) John McCain will become the oldest person to ever become president.  McCain would be 73 years of age when inaugurated January 20, 2009 if elected.

2) Barack Obama will become the first African-American president if elected.

3) Hillary Clinton will become the first female president if elected. She would also become the first spouse of a former president to become president.

Someone recently said to me the race was boring. Far from it in my opinion.


Romney Drops Out – McCain is Likely Nominee

February 7, 2008

romney.jpgThis just in – Mitt Romney has dropped out of the Republican race for the presidential nomination. This leaves Senator John MCain of  Arizona as the probable nominee of his party. The only competition left is Mike Huckabee who has limited support.

Romney surprised everyone with his announcement because he was in second place with 286 delegates and was likely to be a strong opponent for McCain who has 714 delegates. Mitt would likely not have won the nomination in the end though, and he has done the right thing for his party by eliminating a long battle. He gave as his reason the need to unite the Republican party against the Democrats as soon as possible.

I’m sure he also saw the Democrats being weakened by a long drawn out battle for their nomination. Because of this the correct strategy is to give up a losing battle, and unite the party behind McCain.

John McCann at 72 years of age will get a chance to win the White House. If he is elected he will be the oldest president to take office. By January 2009 he will be 73 years of age. This means that at the end of his first term in January 2013 he will be 77 years old, and if he were to go two terms would be 81 by the time he left office. My message to the Republicans is this, make sure you take great care in the selection of McCain’s vice presidential running mate. This person could easily be called upon to become president. I predict that if John McCain does become president, he will be only a one-term president. That would mean that four years from now another wide open election campaign might happen.

How about Mitt Romney as McCain’s running mate? I don’t think this is likely because McCain needs the support of the conservative wing of his party and Romney is certainly not conservative.

The other possibility, of course, is that the Democrats will win the White House with either Hillary or Barack becoming the president. I still think that is the most likely outcome.


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