You go to the voting booth with the Constitution you’ve got…

by lestro

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.”

Ouch. The Treasury Secretary from 1904 said that.

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…


6 Responses to You go to the voting booth with the Constitution you’ve got…

  1. Edwards says:

    I’m sorry to disappoint but John McCain is a US Citizen, his father and grandfather we’re Admirals in the US Navy. Any dependent (Child or Spouse) of a member of the Armed Forces is automatically a Citizen reguardless of location at time of birth. Check your facts next time.

  2. Edwards,

    I’m sorry that you couldn’t be bothered to read the post before making your comment. or, if you read the post, that you missed the subtle difference between being a citizen (over which there is no debate with regard to McCain) and being a natural-born citizen, as required by the Constitution to become eligible to run for 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.

    The law you mention was not in place by the time McCain was born, which arguably deprives him of the “natural born” status of citizenship.

    Which is funny if you try to keep track of how a “strict constructionist” interprets the US Constitution. Ironic, to say the least…

  3. Justin says:

    No one is questioning whether he is a citizen or not. The question is whether he is a “Natural born” citizen or a “Naturalized” citizen. Natural born citizens are born to US parents within the constitutional United States. According to the constitution only Natural born citizens can become president. Since McCain was born in the canal zone, which was not constitutionally or legally part of the United States, he is not a Natural Born citizen, and thus must be a Naturalized citizen. This means, strictly speaking, he can not legally be president. No bill can change that. It’s in the Constitution. The Constitution overrides all bill when there is a contradiction. The only way he can be president is if there were an amendment to the constitution.

  4. organisedchaos says:

    good to see the US believes a president should be elected based on qualifications and merit rather than superficial bullshit like birth locale. why even go bringing something like this up…its kinda stupid.

  5. organisedchaos, I think you make a good point. The US Constitution is designed to be adaptable to changing circumstances that couldn’t be foreseen in advance by its framers. Like Justin points out, the Constitution can be amended when the will of the people demands it.

    There are interpretations of the US Constitution that think of it as a living document and capable of interpretation in the context of a changing world. Other interpretations, not so much.

    So to use the George Bush definition of “strict constructionist” as reported by wikipedia:

    On the campaign trail in 2000, for example, President George W. Bush promised to appoint “strict constructionists in the mold of Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas,”

    it’s their own damn fault. And I agree, it is superficial bullshit to worry about birth locale instead of qualification and merit. the US Constitution does tend to be full of surprises… and with the historical xenophobia of the Constitution now potentially disqualifying the Republican candidate, maybe America will now address that issue.

    which is the point where I start laughing hysterically.

  6. Matt says:

    McCain has no right to be president. He doens’t have the right to lick the shit off my shoes. Until he can demonstrate that he is willing to keep the line between Church and State VERY visible, then he’s a useless sack of shit unfit to direct a charge of elephants.

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