Washington Post: McCain’s Birth Abroad Stirs Legal Debate

May 2, 2008

McCain’s eligibility is being challenged on the basis of his(apparently insufficiently documented) birth on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone. I pronounced wrongly on this very issue (without reference to McCain) two days ago. I assumed “natural born” referred to anyone with birthright citizenship, including those born to citizen parents on non-US territory.

The key constitutional issue is whether the Canal Zone was part of the United States at the time of McCain’s birth. In a memorandum, Tribe and Olson cite a 1986 Supreme Court ruling stating that the United States “exercised sovereignty” over the 10-mile-wide area between 1904 and 1979, when it was handed back to the Panamanians. Hollander and others challenging McCain’s eligibility argue that the zone was never part of the United States.

Duggin, the constitutional law scholar, said the sovereignty question is “more complex” than Olson and Tribe concede. People born in some U.S. territories, such as American Samoa, are not recognized as citizens of the United States.

According to a State Department manual, U.S. military installations abroad cannot be considered “part of the United States” and “A child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth.” Tribe said the manual is an “opinion” with no legal status.

So McCain’s being eligible for the presidency may hinge on declaring parts of Latin America ceded to the US temporarily on which the US has constructed military bases to be under US sovereignty? Hmm…interesting.

There are few precedents for someone born outside the 50 states running for president, let alone becoming president. The best example the McCain camp has been able to come up with is Vice President Charles Curtis, who served under President Herbert Hoover and was born in the territory of Kansas in 1860, a year before it became a state. The 12th Amendment requires that vice presidents possess the same qualifications as presidents.

If one wanted to nitpick, one would point out that all of the presidents up to Jackson plus William Henry Harrison, were born before the Declaration of Independence, and thus “outside the 50 States.”

McCain’s Birth Abroad Stirs Legal Debate – washingtonpost.com


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