Why We Should Abolish the Requirement that the President Must be a “Natural Born Citizen”
In almost every recent election, some prominent candidate’s eligibility for the presidency or vice presidency has been questioned on the theory that they do not meet the requirements of the Natural Born Citizen Clause of the Constitution. In 2016, the target was Ted Cruz. In 2008 and 2012, it was Barack Obama, who was assailed by “birtherists” who falsely claimed he was born outside the United States. Obama’s 2008 GOP opponent, John McCain, also came under attack because he was born in what was then the Canal Zone.
The latest Natural Born Citizen-controversy focuses on Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, thanks to a Newsweek article by conservative legal scholar John Eastman, claiming that she isn’t eligible despite being born in the United States, due to the possibility that her parents were not yet US citizens at the time she was born. Eastman’s argument has, predictably been taken up by Donald Trump, just as Trump previously claimed Ted Cruz was ineligible in 2016, and promoted “birtherist” attacks on Obama.
Eastman’s argument is weak, and has already drawn strong rebuttals by co-blogger Eugene Volokh, and others. I would add that much of Eastman’s analysis rests on his extremely narrow interpretation of the Birthright Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which I criticized here. For what it is worth, I also defended Cruz’s eligibility in 2016. While I am no great fan of either Cruz or Harris, neither is ineligible to be president.
But the most objectionable aspect of this situation is that the Natural Born Citizenship Clause exists at all, thereby barring virtually all immigrants from holding the highest office in the land, and opening the door to ridiculous attacks on the eligibility even of people who have been US citizens all their lives, such as Cruz, Obama, and Harris. Instead of focusing on the candidates’ policies, competence, and character, we instead spend valuable time and effort debating such irrelevancies as where they were born and the exact legal status of their parents at the time.
Back in 2016, at the time of the Cruz controversy, I made the case for abolishing the natural born citizen requirement. It remains just as relevant today:
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