The New York Times reports this morning on an interesting issue that could potentially, but is not likely to, affect the current Presidential election. The question has arisen as to whether John McCain, likely to be the Republican nominee for President, is eligible to hold the office of President. As Senator McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, there is an issue as to whether he is a “natural born citizen” pursuant to the Constitutional requirements for the office.
Senator McCain was born in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone on a military installation while his father was assigned there as a Navy officer. Accordingly, his official birthplace is the Panama Canal Zone, and not one of the fifty states constituting American soil. However, Senator McCain and his campaign staff are assured that he is still eligible. According to his advisers, Senator McCain’s qualifications were first examined in 1999 when he first sought to run for President; the issue was reviewed again prior to his current campaign. Both times, McCain’s advisers came to the conclusion that he was eligible to run.
In support of McCain’s qualifications, Senator Lindsey Graham says he does not understand how “the son of a military member born in a military station could not run for president.” By declaring McCain as ineligible to run, Graham states that “[i]f that becomes a problem, we need to tell every military family that your kid can’t be president if they take an overseas assignment.”
Many feel, as I do, that McCain is in fact eligible and that his campaign for President will be continued. However, as many of the scholars quoted in the article state, there has never been a definitive answer to such an issue. Even though the issue had been raised in previous campaigns, no ruling was ever required either due to the fact that the issue became moot due to the questioned candidate not winning or due to the fact that allegations were based merely on rumor and never pursued. As such, until some ruling or amendment is provided, the question will remain.
Further, as the article states, this situation is much different than the case of Arnold Schwarzenneger, who was born in Austria. Senator McCain holds no other citizenship outside of the United States; his citizenship was established by statute, not through the naturalization process through which Governor Schwarzenneger obtained citizenship. For some, the fact that McCain was born a citizen, rather than later in life having become a citizen, may prove to be a deciding line in determining his eligibility.
The issue here becomes interesting, not just for this election but also for future elections. As Senator Graham indicates, a disqualification of Senator McCain from holding the office of the President would set precedent against any child born on any military base not on U.S. soil from one day running for President. If the Constitution is read literally, only those born within the fifty states would ever be eligible, even though those born on these military installations were there solely due to orders from the U.S. government.
Having no political affiliation with either party, I feel that declaring Senator McCain ineligible from holding the office of the President, while perhaps being a literal interpretation of the Constitution, would not be within the original intention of the Constitution. It is my opinion that the drafters of the Constitution intended to prevent those born in other countries with foreign citizenship, not persons born as U.S. citizens (whether born on U.S. soil or on military installations), from running for President. The drafters of the Constitution could not have planned for all future issues; times have changed and the U.S. presence overseas has obviously increased. Having the ability to look at this subject in the present, it seems that it is time to fully address this question and provide definitive answers for Senator McCain and for others in the future who may face similar issues.