Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: John McCain does not qualify as a natural-born citizen of the U.S. because he was born in Panama.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, July 2008]
Origins: Among the few qualifications specified in
As much we'd like to dismiss this one as just another frivolous election season rumor, it's impossible to make any definitive statement about Senator McCain's presidential eligibility because the issue is a matter of law rather than a matter of fact, and the law is ambiguous. There is no disputing that, under the
The framers of the Constitution didn't elaborate on the term "natural born citizen," there has never been a court case defining exactly what a "natural-born citizen" is, and neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has definitively resolved the issue. It is therefore not completely inconceivable that someone could mount a legal challenge to Senator McCain's presidential eligibility, and that the issue would have to be decided in court:
"There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent," saidThe issue is even more complicated because the process of challenging a presidential candidate's eligibility is itself a murky issue, as the New York Times noted:
In a paper written 20 years ago for the Yale Law Journal on the natural-born enigma, Jill Pryor, now a lawyer in Atlanta, said that any legal challenge to a presidential candidate born outside national boundaries would be "unpredictable and
Lawyers who have examined the topic say there is not just confusion about the provision [regarding natural-born citizenship status] itself, but uncertainty about who would have the legal standing to challenge a candidate on such grounds, what form a challenge could take and whether it would have to wait until after the election or could be made at any time.A lawsuit challenging Senator McCain's eligibility is pending in Federal District Court in Concord, New Hampshire, but whether that lawsuit will be allowed to proceed is questionable:
In the motion to dismiss the New Hampshire suit,In April 2008 the Senate approved a non-binding resolution declaring John McCain eligible to be president, one which stated that "There is no evidence of the intention of the framers or any Congress to limit the constitutional rights of children born to Americans serving in the military nor to prevent those children from serving as their country's president." However, that resolution has no legal effect.
Daniel P. Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University, agreed. "It is awfully unlikely that a federal court would say that an individual voter has standing," he said. "It is questionable whether anyone would have standing to raise that claim."
Two constitutional lawyers (Laurence Tribe and Theodore Olson) who have studied the issue at the request of Senator McCain found in his favor, but another law scholar recently declared he had determined just the opposite:
In the most detailed examination yet of Senator John McCain's eligibility to be president, a law professor at the University of Arizona has concluded that neither Mr. McCain's birth in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone nor the fact that his parents were American citizens is enough to satisfy the constitutional requirement that the president must be a "natural-born citizen."If a consensus on the matter can be said to exist, it is that if John McCain is not a natural-born citizen under the law, it's only because of an exceptional and narrow gap in the law that was subsequently corrected and was never intended to exclude someone in his circumstances from natural-born citizenship status, so it would be unfair to declare him ineligible for the presidency on that basis:
The analysis, by
"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."
"No court will get close to it, and everyone else is on board, so there's a constitutional consensus, the merits of arguments such as [Professor Chin's] aside," saidLast updated: 23 July 2008
"You'd have to think a federal court would look for every possible way to avoid deciding the issue," [said election law expert
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of
"He was posted there on orders from the United States government,"
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