At the end of February, the New York Times launched its odd broadside against John McCain, alleging that some rational basis for denying him the Presidency might exist because of his birth at an American military base in Panama — to two American citizens, one of whom was stationed there in service to the US. Apparently, the Washington Post didn’t learn from the guffaws that article produced, because Michael Dobbs reports on the exact same subject more than nine weeks later:
Article II of the Constitution states that “no person except a natural born citizen . . . shall be eligible to the office of president.” The problem is that the Founding Fathers never defined exactly what they meant by “natural born citizen,” and the matter has never been fully tested in court. At least three pending cases are challenging McCain’s right to be sworn in as president.
Jurists on both sides of the political divide, consulted by the McCain campaign, insist that the issue is clear-cut. They argue that McCain is a natural-born citizen because the United States held sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone at the time of his birth, on Aug. 29, 1936; because he was born on a U.S. military base; and because his parents were U.S. citizens.
But Sarah H. Duggin, an associate law professor at Catholic University who has studied the “natural born” issue in detail, said the question is “not so simple.” While she said McCain would probably prevail in a determined legal challenge to his eligibility to be president, she added that the matter can be fully resolved only by a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court decision.
“The Constitution is ambiguous,” Duggin said. “The McCain side has some really good arguments, but ultimately there has never been any real resolution of this issue. Congress cannot legislatively change the meaning of the Constitution.”
They have “really good arguments”? Please. No one has ever suggested before now that a person born of American citizens at an American military base has any other status than natural-born American citizenship. Otherwise, all children born abroad in military families would have to be naturalized when they came back to the United States. The Constitution doesn’t create a separate category of unnaturalized citizenship, which makes the case rather plain.
As I wrote in February when the Times published its equally-absurd entry on this question:
It’s a slam-dunk to the millions of military families whose service to this country should have left then with no doubts about their children being relegated to second-class citizenry. They sacrificed enough for their country without having to sacrifice the futures of their children. Any other conclusion would amount to a penalty for military service on those who did not volunteer.
The Founding Fathers recognized this. They passed a bill in 1790, three years after the adoption of the Constitution, which made clear that “natural born” applied to children born of American citizens “outside the limits of the United States”. That law remains in effect and has never been challenged. At the least, it speaks to the intent of the founders when they used the term “natural born” in the Constitution.
It’s beyond absurd to argue that John McCain doesn’t qualify to run as an American for the presidency. The candidate or party that files a lawsuit to challenge him on this point runs the risk of alienating a large swath of the public who have served this nation in uniform, in diplomacy, and in government.
Dobbs never mentions the 1790 act in his article, but he manages to work in some fairly deceptive text. For instance:
People born in some U.S. territories, such as American Samoa, are not recognized as citizens of the United States.
In fact, they are recognized as US citizens if born of US citizens. Furthermore, that’s not even an analogous situation. McCain was born on an American base of American parents, one of whom was stationed there by the US Navy. This only adds to the absurdity of Dobb’s reporting on an absurd issue.
McCain is a natural-born citizen eligible for the Presidency. This ridiculous notion either highlights the desperation of his political opponents or the intellectual bankruptcy of the media that insists on debating a non-issue.