You go to the voting booth with the Constitution you’ve got…
July 11, 2008 6 Comments
So we all know one of the candidates wasn’t born in the US, right?
It’s true, sometimes the email chains are real! John McCain was not born in the United States.
McCain’s dad was a Navy man (both McCain’s father and grandfather were admirals) and McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed there in 1936.
This is only interesting because the US Constitution specifically states that the President must be a natural born citizen. It’s one of three requirements. The others, of course, are a minimum age of 35 and having lived in the US for 14 years. McCain easily meets the last two.
However, his citizenship is unquestioned, his natural born status is something that has been discussed, to the point that earlier this year the House and Senate both passed a bill stating his eligibility to run for President, based on the idea that the founders wouldn’t want to deny the Presidency to someone because their parents were in the military. Hard to disagree with.
But according to a new, in-depth look at the issue, it’s not enough:
The analysis, by Prof. Gabriel J. Chin, focused on a 1937 law that has been largely overlooked in the debate over Mr. McCain’s eligibility to be president.
The law conferred citizenship on children of American parents born in the Canal Zone after 1904, and it made John McCain a citizen just before his first birthday. But the law came too late, Professor Chin argued, to make Mr. McCain a natural-born citizen.
Interesting. But surely, the Canal Zone, the 10-mile strip of land that surrounds the Panama Canal, which was controlled by the US from 1903 to 1979 counts as the US, right? I mean, it was US territory at the time, right?
A series of early-20th-century decisions known as the Insular Cases, he wrote, ruled that unincorporated territories acquired by the United States were not part of the nation for constitutional purposes. The Insular Cases did not directly address the Canal Zone. But the zone was generally considered an unincorporated territory before it was returned to Panama in 1999, and some people born in the Canal Zone when it was under American jurisdiction have been deported from the United States or convicted of being here illegally.
Oh come on, surely the people of the time considered it part of the States, right?
“While the general spirit and purpose of the Constitution is applicable to the zone, that domain is not a part of the United States within the full meaning of the Constitution and laws of the country.”
Now, nothing will come of it and no one is seriously questioning McCain’s eligibility, but it does raise an interesting question, especially for the type of constructionist judges McCain himself vows to appoint to the Supreme Court.
The great irony is that strict constructionist, letter-of-the-law interpreters of the constitution believe rules are rules and the Constitution is a rigid document that would have no choice but to rule that McCain – in the most literal sense available – since he does not meet the requirements to be President.
“It’s preposterous that a technicality like this can make a difference in an advanced democracy,” Professor Chin said. “But this is the constitutional text that we have.”
That means McCain’s own constructionist views should prevent him from running. Kind of funny, really.
After all, to paraphrase Rummy, you go to the voting booth with the Constitution you’ve got, not the one that you want…