Much is being blogged about natural born citizenship since Barack Obama ran for president. There are lengthy legal-sounding arguments and long quotations from books. If you want an advanced degree in Natural Born Citizen, there’s an incredible and growing repository of facts and documents over at What’s Your Evidence? and The Great Mother of All Natural Born Citizenship Quotation Pages. The Wikipedia article is good too. But for folks who would like just the basics, Obama Conspiracy Theories Presents:
Natural Born Citizen For Dummies
The Constitution of the United States uses the phrase “natural born citizen” but doesn’t define it. In fact the Constitution does not even define citizen except to say that some are “natural born” and some are “naturalized”. In the beginning, citizenship was defined by the States.
Where can we get a definition?
There are two approaches. One is to try to figure out what was in the minds of the people who wrote and ratified the Constitution (they’re all dead) or to rely on what the law was at the time the Constitution was written, specifically British Common Law. The most reasonable approach says that if the framers of the Constitution intended “natural born citizen” to mean something at different from Common Law, then they would have written it down.
The Constitution was written by former British citizens (many British-trained lawyers like John Rutledge who was chairman of the Committee of Detail who wrote the first draft of the Constitution), and it was their view that the United States where they lived was more important to them than their heritage as subjects of the King of England. They had a bias for place over blood line.
What does British Common Law say?
There are several court cases where judges’ opinions give a survey of Common Law as regards citizenship. The most authoritative and widely cited of these surveys is from the Unites States Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. In that decision, the Court said of British Common Law:
Children, born in England, of such aliens [those in amity – friendship], were therefore natural-born subjects. But the children, born within the realm, of foreign ambassadors, or the children of alien enemies, born during and within their hostile occupation of part of the king’s dominions, were not natural-born subjects, because not born within the allegiance, the obedience, or the power, or, as would be said at this day, within the jurisdiction, of the king.
‘Subject’ and ‘citizen’ are, in a degree, convertible terms as applied to natives; and though the term ‘citizen’ seems to be appropriate to republican freemen, yet we are, equally with the inhabitants of all other countries, ‘subjects,’ for we are equally bound by allegiance and subjection to the government and law of the land.
The preceding short excerpts from Wong are faithful to the conclusion of the entire case.
Are there any laws or court decisions that help us out?
While not a binding precedent, a very interesting case did come before the Supreme Court of New York in 1844, Lynch v. Clarke where the judge opined:
By the common law, all persons born within the ligeance of the crown of England, were natural born subject, without reference to the status or condition of their parents.
The term citizen, was used in the constitution as a word, the meaning of which was already established and well understood. And the constitution itself contains a direct recognition of the subsisting common law principle, in the section which defines the qualification of the President. “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,” … The only standard which then existed, of a natural born citizen, was the rule of the common law, and no different standard has been adopted since. Suppose a person should be elected President who was native born, but of alien parents, could there be any reasonable doubt that he was eligible under the constitution? I think not.
While there are many more citations that could be given, the preceding is faithful to the consensus of the courts throughout America’s history.
What about the 14th Amendment?
The 14th Amendment (1868) begins:
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 shows us that there are only two kinds of citizen, born or naturalized. This Amendment was in force at the time United States v. Wong Kim Ark was decided, and it informed that decision. The Supreme Court in Wong strongly affirmed that all persons born in the United States are fully and completely under the jurisdiction of the United States (including Mr. Wong the child of two Chinese
citizen parents ) unless we make exception in our law (such as for ambassadors and their families).
I heard somebody say that all the Congressmen know that two citizen parents are required to be a United States Citizen.
It is fair to say that the sentiment of Congress on this issue is proven by their certification of the election of 2008 where the winner was born in the United States, but of only one citizen parent. Their view could be summed up in the statement by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who said: “Every child born in the United States is a natural-born United States citizen except for the children of diplomats.”
I saw a YouTube video that says something completely different.
While not every odd-ball case of natural born citizenship is decided, the one thing that has been understood from the beginning of our nation: persons born in the United States are natural born citizens.
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Natural Born Timeline – a brief history of natural born citizenship.