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Clinton, Obama Agree: McCain Can Be President

Though they appear likely to fight on for several more weeks on the campaign trail, the Democratic presidential candidates are now united on at least one point: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be able to serve in the White House.

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced a bill to clarify that children born to U.S. military personnel serving overseas can grow up to be president. The issue arose after a New York Times story revived the debate over whether McCain -- who was born in the Panama Canal zone, where his parents were stationed at a military installation -- can be president. The constitution says only a "natural-born citizen" can hold the post, and legal experts say the Supreme Court has never made clear exactly what "natural-born" means.

After McCaskill introduced the bill Feb. 28, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) jumped on the next day as a co-sponsor. After a weekend to think about the issue (though she may have had other things on her mind), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) signed on to the bill Monday, and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are also backing it.

So while neither Obama nor Clinton thinks McCain would be a good president, they are at least gracious enough to allow that he CAN be president. Who said bipartisanship was dead?

By Ben Pershing  |  March 5, 2008; 11:21 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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I am by no means a Constitutional scholar. That said, I wonder how a provision of the Constitution can be clarified by statute?

The Constitution means whatever it means. If the Supreme Court were to conclude that the provision at issue here actually means that a person born in the Panama Canal Zone is not a "natural born citizen," and thus not qualified to be president, then nothing contained in a federal statute could have any bearing on that.

To be clear, I'm not hostile to the goal Senator McCaskill and others hope to accomplish. From a substantive standpoint, I hope that this provision of the Constitution is interpreted in such a way so as to permit John McCain to be President. I'm just dubious that enacting a federal law could have any effect whatsoever on the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Posted by: I wonder... | March 5, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

The issue doesn't deserve any comments.

Posted by: mali23 | March 6, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

As a 30 year Navy veteran with children born in Japan and Scotland, the argument that they are not native born citizens is ridiculous. My son, born in an U.S. Army hospital in Japan was automatically a U.S.
citizen since his parents were U.S. citizens and he was born on U.S. controlled territory. Another son, born in a Scottish hospital, was also a naturally
born citizen since his parents were U.S.
citizens; however, his birth certificate
is not a Scottish one, it was issued by
the U.S. State department.
The simple truth is, you are automatically
a native-born citizen if the parents are
U.S. citizens regardless of where you are
born. Anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a native-born citizen, whether or not the parents are citizens.

Posted by: Norm | March 6, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

This is not just an issue for the children of the US military but for children of all US government employees stationed overseas.

Posted by: Marion | March 6, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

"I wonder" is correct. A federal statute can't overtun the constitution. Someone should have or maybe still should sue in federal court challenging McCain's legitimacy, thereby forcing the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. McCain, born in U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone would likely beat the challange

Posted by: Tucker | March 6, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse


I have two concerns about your solution, i.e., having someone sue in federal court to force the Supreme Court to render an interpretation.

First, I don't think the Court would reach the merits of such a question unless the another candidate for President was the plaintiff. That is, I think the Court would find that no other individual or entity would have "standing" to bring such a suit. One of the requirements needed to establish standing is the plaintiff must allege that s/he has suffered (or is about to suffer) a concrete injury. I doubt very much that the Court would conclude that anyone other than another candidate for President could establish this requirement.

Second, it's possible that even if the "standing" hurdle were overcome, the Court would invoke the Political Question doctrine and decline to rule on such an issue.

One could argue, perhaps convincingly, that the Court would be ducking its responsibility in refusing to rule on such a question, but it might demure nonetheless.

Perhaps all this just means that that provision of the Constitution is rendered all but unenforceable.

I'm not sure about any of'd be interesting to watch how it played out.

Posted by: I wonder... | March 7, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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