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BIRTHPLACE AND PRESIDENCIES
The Schwarzenegger amendment

By Bevin B. | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5: 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.

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The above quote, concerning the requirements for eligibility for the Presidency, is from the Constitution of the United States of America. There are three basic requirements, with which every American citizen is familiar: the candidate must be at least thirty-five years of age; the candidate must have resided in America for at least fourteen years; and, noted foremost, the candidate must be born an American. As outlined in the supreme document of our land, the guidelines are quite clear.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), who was born in Austria, has endorsed a challenge to this clause. Last year, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a bill that would change the Constitution to allow anyone who has lived in America for at least twenty years to run for the Presidency. Earlier this year, at a meeting of the National Governor's Association in Washington, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying, "that there's no reason why not [to allow a person with at least twenty years United States residency to run for President]."

A woman who came to the Governor's office with a bit less fanfare than Gov. Schwarzenegger was Jennifer Granholm (D-MI). Gov. Granholm was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A statement issued by Liz Boyd, Press Secretary to Governor Granholm, stated, On "the issue of a constitutional amendment allowing foreign born citizens to serve as president, Governor Granholm has said this: [e]xcept for Native Americans, we are a country of immigrants. That is the essence, the fundamental core, the heritage of being an American."

Hatch has denied that his bill was proposed with Schwarzenegger in mind. Schwarzenegger has demurred from suggestions that he is currently considering a presidential run. Gov. Granholm, also personally rejecting the idea of a run, supports the alteration. Still, there is reason for concern that this bill could immanently amend the Constitution.

Senator Orrin Hatch recommends that twenty years of American residency is the magic number for Presidential eligibility. Really though, when does the American spirit ignite in a person? The drafters of the Constitution felt that American spirit could only be carried by the birth of a citizen or by the birth of a nation. The drafters of the Constitution apparently felt that, in the future, only the pride of an innate inheritance of America could qualify someone to govern their great, though fledgling, nation. With their intentions clear, they penned the requirement.

That is not to claim that the drafters of the Constitution were always considered right. Since they gave their names to the document (excluding the Bill of Rights), there are been seventeen amendments to the Constitution. There is even one amendment (Amendment XVIII — prohibition of alcohol) that is overruled by a subsequent amendment (Amendment XXI — repeal of prohibition). In fact, some people consider the most beautiful aspect of the Constitution to be its elasticity.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, again at the National Governor's Association, cited Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright as examples of foreigners who served in the high rank of Secretary of State who would have been, perhaps wrongly, Constitutionally denied the right to run for President. Gov. Granholm, again quoted through Liz Boyd in a personal e-mail, states that, "[i]f the concern is about loyalty to America, which it is, then a requirement that a naturalized citizen have lived in this country for 25 or more years should alleviate that concern, particularly where someone was brought to this country as a child." [Author's Note: The twenty-five years recommended in this quote refers to the proposed Presidential candidacy requirement outlined in a bill similar to Orrin Hatch's bill submitted to the House by Vic Synder (D-AR) in June 2004].

Nonetheless, there remains a valid concern about the Constitutional changes which are proposed. In these days of terror and wars, there is a significant question regarding to whom we are and should be willing to entrust our national security. Americans have been asked to and have sacrificed so many of their personal freedoms already. It seems unfair to ask the American public to entrust the highest office in the land to someone who is not American born and bred.

This concern is isolationist and borne out of fear, certainly. However, Lincoln ran his reelection campaign on the slogan, "Neither prince nor pauper ought to change horses midstream." While it is true that America always seems to be in midstream (and perhaps that is our strength), we do seem to be fighting especially choppy waters presently.

The time to amend the Constitution about an issue like this is when the waters are steadier. Gov. Granholm is quoted as saying, "You can’t choose where you are born, but you can choose where you live and where you swear your allegiance." Her statement is a statement of truth and hope to which we can cling while we wait for the surely deep, calm waters of the future.

 



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