Sunday, July 27, 2003

The Constitution: Foreign Presidents

On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Commitee will hold a hearing on a quirky constitutional amendment proposed by the committee's chairman, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
A person who is a citizen of the United States, who has been for 20 years a citizen of the United States, and who is otherwise eligible to the Office of President, is not ineligible to that Office by reason of not being a native born citizen of the United States.
Under the 1789 Constitution, a foreign-born citizen is ineligible to assume the presidency without exception. This provision was written largely because of concerns that some factions in the new American government would seek to "import" a chief of state from England and install him as a de facto King. That's obviously not a major concern of most Americans today, and with the number of respected foreign-born citizens in political life, it would seem appropriate to reconsider the original Constitution's total ban.

I only wonder why Hatch specified a 20-year period of citizenship. It seems high. The Constitution specifies House members must be citizens for seven years, and Senate members for nine. Following that progression, a president should be qualified after just 11 or 12 years. But this is obviously a detail that can be hashed out in debate.

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