Presidential Eligibility: the Meaning of the Natural-Born Citizen Clause

Christina S. Lohman, Presidential Eligibility: the Meaning of Natual-Born Citizen Clause, 36 Gonz. L. Rev. 349 (2001).

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The Natural-Born Citizen Clause of the United States Constitution[1] has been labeled by some as the “Constitution’s worst provision.”[2]  The clause provides that “No person except a natural born Citizen, or Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”[3] Attacks on the provision stem primarily from disagreement with its inherent supposition that naturalized Americans are less loyal than natural-born, and therefore should be precluded from aspiring to the highest office in the land.[4] Opponents of the provision have pointed out that notable public officials, such as Henry Kissinger,[5] Madeleine Albright,[6] and many other high profile individuals,[7] the Office of the Presidency by reason of foreign-born status. While others have poked fun at the clause with tongue-in-cheek assertions that individuals born by cesarean section are not viable presidential candidates,[8] laughing matter to those who feel it is restrictive of basic American ideals.

Yet, the Constitution is restrictive. Just as it requires that United States Representatives be at least twenty-five years of age and citizens for seven years,[9] and Senators be at least thirty years old and citizens for nine years,[10] the Constitution demands that the President be a natural-born citizen.[11] Aside from the question of whether the term “natural-born citizen” encompasses foreignborn children of citizen parents,[12] its scope has evoked little commentary. Most likely this absence of debate stems from the fact that in the over 200 years since the founding of America, all serious presidential candidates have been born within the territory of the United States.[13] The clause did emerge from the constitutional woodwork when, in 1968, Governor George Romney of Michigan, born in Mexico to American parents, was in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination.[14] Romney quickly dismissed concerns of potential presidential ineligibility by asserting natural-born status on the grounds that his parents were American citizens.[15] While Romney’s political pursuits produced temporary debate as to the exact meaning of “natural-born,” upon his fading, the issue paled in the political arena as well. Indeed, itsinsignificance to most makes it one of unpalatable inquiry…. Read more

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