Letter in Daily Local News, Monday, June 28, 2010
Marvin C. Baughman, in “Another injustice to be corrected” (June 22), says children born to American service members in military hospitals outside the U.S. cannot become president or vice president. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section I) states:
“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”
But what’s a “natural born Citizen”? The Naturalization Act of 1790 says:
“The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond Sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born Citizens.”
The 14th Amendment (1868) reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Though the 1790 act has gone through many permutations, and the 14th Amendment has undergone judicial clarifications, the parts quoted above seem to have stayed with us. Thus, both 2008 presidential candidates were eligible to serve:
John McCain (who was born of U.S. parents in Panama) and Barack Obama (who was born of a U.S. citizen mother and a father who was a British citizen from Kenya).
In addition, it appears to me, unless there are special conditions, that the U.S. Code, by which Congress clarifies governmental regulations, shows (Title 8, Section 1401) that any child of a genuine U.S. citizen living abroad also becomes a U.S. citizen at birth and thus is eligible to be president.
There are many more details to all this, but I don’t see evidence that we need a constitutional amendment or a rallying of “military organizations” to correct any “injustice.”
Mr. Baughman also complains that babies born to “illegals” in the U.S. become U.S. citizens at birth. That’s a very different matter.
The 14th Amendment was designed to give citizenship to former slaves, and the Supreme Court in 1898 clarified that the amendment also applies to children born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants, who at the time were not allowed to become citizens themselves. Trying to change the 14th Amendment would certainly send a controversial message.
As the Prohibition fiasco showed (the 21st Amendment had to be enacted to repeal the 18th), we are usually better off trusting the Founders — thus, living with the Constitution we have and counting on legislative and judicial processes to update its exact meaning — then we are rushing to amend it when some problem surfaces.