John McCain: The First Hispanic President! Or, more specifically, would he be the first Panamanian President? I don't know. But what I do know is that John McCain is not a natural born citizen of the United States. Or is he? If you haven't been paying attention, and I know many of you haven't, you should know that some people have this silly idea that John McCain is ineligible to serve as President. The issue isn't whether Mac is American. He is. He's as American as mac and cheese. The real question, however, is this: is Mac a natural born American citizen?
That question remains to be answered. Adding to the long list of things that John McCain is older than is this one: John McCain is older than the existence of citizenship for those born in the Panama Canal Zone during US occupation. Mac was born in 1936, prior to the 1937 law enacted in order to confer citizenship upon the children of American parents born in the canal zone after 1904. The year 1904, by the way, was the year that America bought rights to the zone from the French and commenced construction on the canal.
A series of cases in the 1970's, called the "insular cases", ruled that unincorporated territories acquired by the United
States were not part of the nation, for constitutional purposes. Also, the zone was long considered an unincorporated territory. In fact, the courts supported the ability of the United States to deport people born
in the Panama Canal Zone during the US occupation. (By the way, before you accuse me of doing well-reasoned insightful research, note I've copied a great deal of the facts herein from various web and print sources, not the least significant of which is "A Hint of New Life To A McCain Birth Issue", by Adam Liptak, in the July 11, 2008 New York Times.)
Anyhoo, if even well into the 1970's, Panamanians could be deported as illegals, and the zone was not considered part of the US territory, then what possible claim could McCain have to the throne? The 1937 law conferring citizenship was meant to cover a loophole in then-existing law that conferred citizenship only upon those within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. Since Panama wasn't within the territory of the United States, (see prior paragraph), there was a gap in coverage. So the 1937 law sounds good, eh? Then what's the problem? For anyone not running for President, there is no problem. However, for those that are running for President, the problem lies in that dusty old document -- that pesky piece of parchment -- our nation's binding document and guidebook for governance and rule of law -- the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Constitution describes the requirements for a President as follows, in Article II Section I: 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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. Of course, McCain will probably have no problem satisfying the age requirement. But what is "natural born"? McCain wasn't born within the United States, and he wasn't born subject to and after an Act of Congress conferred the rights of citizenship. The 1937 law granting him citizenship was an ex post facto law, looking backward, not forward.
Let's be a strict constructionist again, for a while, shall we? The constitution says "natural born" citizen, not "naturalized" citizen. What's the difference? A naturalized citizen is one that becomes a citizen. A natural born citizen is one who was a citizen under the law from the time of his or her birth. For those who think the constitution is pretty darn clear, they are right. What other possible meaning could the term "natural born" have? Perhaps McCain intends to claim the second route of eligibility--i.e., that he was a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of the Constitution. Was that one old joke too many?
OK, back to the point: McCain is most clearly not a natural born citizen. Hence, he is ineligible to serve. However, Barack Obama, born in Honolulu 2 years after statehood, is eligible to serve. Where does that leave us? Well, a lawsuit in New Hampshire seeking to throw out McCain's candidacy, a lot of chit-chat, but not much else. If a judge ever had to decide whether McCain was a natural born citizen, that would take an apparently unbridled act of judicial activism, wouldn't it?
With that, I think I'd like to reference John McCain's own words in support of strict constructionism. On his own website, McCain offers the following insight: "John McCain believes that one of the greatest threats to our liberty and the Constitutional framework that safeguards our freedoms are* willful judges who usurp the role of the people and their representatives and legislate from the bench. As President, John McCain will nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat."
Clearly, John McCain would not seek to render our constitution meaningless by being deemed eligible to serve, would he? And yet from McCain's own comments, we can discern that he would definitely not support the nomination of judges who might rule him "natural born".
Ironic, ain't it?
*Poor grammar. It should read, "...one of the greatest threats...is...", not "are".