The McCain Panama Citizen Question - Can He Be President?
By Ann Turner from gaywired.com
With Arizona Senator John McCain going into Super Tuesday as the likely Republican presidential frontrunner, a strange new question about his eligibility for the office has bubbled up on the Net. As someone born in the Panama Canal Zone, is McCain a "natural born" U.S. citizen, as required by the Constitution to be president?
In an op-ed piece posted this week, American Voice Radio's Francis Steffan states that John McCain is not eligible for the position of President of the United States—because he is not a "natural born citizen" of American. McCain was born August 29, 1936 at the Coco Solo Air Base in the American-controlled Panama Canal Zone, according to Wikipedia.com. Both of his parents were U.S. citizens.
According to the U.S. Constitution: "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."
Steffan argues that since the Panama Canal Zone was not a U.S. territory, McCain's birth was outside of the United States and therefore he is not a "natural born citizen". However, he also notes that "no law or court ruling has ever established the precise definition of a natural born citizen." But, according to Steffan's argument, the U.S. Constitution was written before America had bases on foreign soil and therefore the authors did not intend for foreign born children on such bases to be "natural born citizens" and thus McCain could only be a "naturalized citizen"—which he states is not acceptable for eligibility.
Adding further fuel to Steffan's argument, the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual (7FAM1116) says: "U.S. military installations abroad and U.S. diplomatic or consular facilities are not part of the United States… a child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth."
On the other side of the argument, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution could be seen as granting persons such as McCain an inherent status as a "natural born citizen" as required for the presidency. The 14th Amendment, Section 1 states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." The 14th Amendment was passed to provide equal protection under the law to all persons and was specifically targeted at establishing the equality of African-American U.S. residents.
Robert Werden, a self-identified Libertarian, argues against this idea, however. Writing on NolanChart.com, Werden says the identify of being a "natural born citizen" "is not open to interpretation of overturned by the 14th Amendment as it is very clear in the Constitution that the founders were being very specific on who could be the President."
Because the Panama Canal Zone was under United States sovereignty at the time McCain was born, although it was not a territory, the general agreement seems to be that McCain is eligible for the presidency. In the end, one would generally expect if McCain's citizenship were truly an issue, there would have been a large, public outcry about it from his opponents before now. That McCain has never hidden the facts of his birth, nor has it become fodder for negative attack ads, most likely means it is simply not a problem.
The rambling and often confusing logic of Steffan's treatise against McCain's eligibility to become president notwithstanding, it does bring up an interesting point. Where do we draw the line at who can run for the highest office in America? For example, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can never hold hopes to become president under current U.S. law because he was born as a citizen of another country.
The final answer probably rests in the hands of the United States Supreme Court and of congress. Through case law, the Supreme Court has generally ruled that Congress holds the right to define American citizenship. As the diversity and background of our political candidates continues to increase, this issue will likely crop up again and again—until at last a clear and undeniable definition is established on just who can and cannot be President of these United States.