​Scott Simon: Do away with "natural born citizen" clause

The campaign debate over Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president is casting a spotlight on the Constitution's phrase "natural born citizen." Although a number of legal experts believe Cruz passes the test, there's no doubt many other American citizens do NOT. Some thoughts on this from contributor Scott Simon of NPR:

Elon Musk may make electric cars and spaceships for Mars, but he can never be President of the United States.

Nor can Sergey Brin, a founder of Google; or Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo.

Or Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, no matter how many treaties they signed as Secretary of State.

They're all U.S. citizens, born overseas. But Article II, Section I of the Constitution says only "a natural born Citizen" can be president.

That phrase "natural born" has nothing to do with the Lamaze method. It means being a U.S. citizen at birth.

But many of the men and women who've made America weren't born here.

Andrew Carnegie, a captain of industry and philanthropy; Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court; Albert Einstein of the cosmos. They all had the ear of presidents, but could never be president.

Nor could Knute Rockne, Joseph Pulitzer, or Irving Berlin. All of them national icons, but not "natural born" U.S. citizens.

America was small when the Constitution was written. The framers feared Britain would send a surge of Canadians over the border to return America to the Empire. That clause was their wall.

A mass migration of Canadians to restore British royalty doesn't seem much of a threat today (though Prince Harry might be a popular choice).

Today about 10 percent of Americans are legal immigrants, and they include some of the most accomplished people in the world. Arianna Huffington, George Soros and Arnold Schwarzenegger might not care that they can't run for president, but we might care that there are U.S. citizens, born overseas, who will graduate this year from MIT, Stanford, Ohio State and Annapolis. There are young immigrants who run companies, teach classes, work two shifts, comfort the sick, command platoons, find cures, and make laws.

They are the kind of citizens presidential candidates laud as inspirations. But they can never run for president.

You might wonder, in the middle of a presidential campaign: Can we afford a clause that excludes some of our most talented Americans?


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