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The “Natural Birth” Clause

Today I will discuss an obscure and seldom-interpreted provision in the Constitution that could have serious implications in today’s presidential race: the “natural birth” clause.

By
Michael W. Flynn
March 7, 2008

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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.   

Today I will discuss an obscure and seldom-interpreted provision in the Constitution that could have serious implications in today’s presidential race: the “natural birth” clause. Specifically, this clause might prevent Senator John McCain, the likely Republican candidate, from becoming the 44th president. 

Article II of the Constitution defines the Executive Branch, which basically means the president. Article II, Section 1 provides:

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.

The important phrase here is “natural born.” This phrase was added in response to a letter written by the first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, to the first president of the United States, George Washington. In that letter, Jay wrote: “Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander in Chief of the American army shall not be given to nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.” The natural born clause was added to the Constitution without debate. 

The reason this is important is that John McCain was born on U.S. military base Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone to U.S. parents. Does that make him a “natural born Citizen?” 

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