Friday, February 19, 2016

Natural Born Citizen or Not

It had to happen.

The question of whether Ted Cruz is a "natural born citizen" or not had to come up. For a person to be eligible for the presidency, they have to meet certain Constitutional requirements, among which is they must be a "natural born citizen."

In a way, this question has been addressed a couple of times before in presidential elections. Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona before it became a state and his status was questioned. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone and his status was questioned. However, the argument against their qualification quickly fell apart, as both of those locations were clearly US territories under US jurisdiction. Ted Cruz's case isn't as cut-and-dried.

Born in Calgary, Canada of a Cuban father and an American mother, he held dual citizenship until he began his presidential run. Although his political office holding only goes back to his installation in the US Senate in 2012, he has been a part of the beltway scene since 1995. Far from being outside the establishment, Cruz has been inside making friends and enemies for more than 20 years.

John Jay (1745-1829)

Whether or not he is a "natural born citizen" is really immaterial. Although I am a big fan of the Constitution, I am also aware of when and why it was written the way it appears. The specification that any presidential candidate must be a "natural born citizen" was inserted after a letter from John Jay to George Washington, who at that time was presiding over the Constitutional Convention, expressed concern that the Commander in Chief of the new nation's military should not be trusted to anyone other than a "natural born citizen." The memory of the recent war was fresh in their minds and, indeed, the conflict with England would not be completely resolved for another decade or so. Little wonder this revision was accepted so readily.

That a presidential candidate be a "natural born citizen" isn't a bad thing, but our Senators and Representatives have no such requirement. Congress can overcome presidential vetoes (arguably). The SCOTUS can rule presidential actions unconstitutional, even void (arguably). 

The term really is one of those things that has lost its meaning. In the 18th century, when only landed gentry could vote or hold office it made sense. Today, not so much.