Immigration Article of the Day: The Original Meaning of 'Natural Born' by Michael D. Ramsey

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Immigration Article of the Day: The Original Meaning of ‘Natural Born’ by Michael D. Ramsey


The Original Meaning of ‘Natural Born’ by Michael D. Ramsey, University of San Diego School of Law January 7, 2016

Abstract: Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that no one but a natural born Citizen is eligible to be President of the United States. Modern conventional wisdom generally holds that the phrase natural born Citizen includes anyone made a U.S. citizen at birth by U.S. statutes or the Constitution. But that conventional wisdom is, on its face, open to doubt. If anyone born a U.S. citizen is eligible, the word natural in the eligibility clause is superfluous. Further, in general in eighteenth-century legal language, natural meant the opposite of provided by statute (hence natural law and natural rights). And plausible arguments can be made for a narrow meaning of natural born on the basis of either traditional English common law or eighteenth-century continental public law. To this point, modern scholarship has provided no comprehensive response to these objections.

Nonetheless, as matter of the Constitution’s original meaning, the conventional wisdom is correct. This article defends a broad view of the original meaning of the eligibility clause on the basis of eighteenth-century English parliamentary practice. The key to understanding the eligibility clause is Congress power over naturalization, which in turn is best understood by examining parliaments naturalization power. By the mid-eighteenth-century, Parliament had power to define by statute who would be recognized as a natural born subject a power that, along with others, was called naturalization. In a succession of Acts, Parliament extended this designation (which originally only applied to those born in England) to various categories of people born outside the country. In adopting the phrase natural born from English law, the American framers likely understood that they were using a phrase without a fixed definition and subject to legislative alteration through the naturalization power. That conclusion in turn provides sound support for the modern view that Congress can create categories of natural born citizens by statute.


Related articles

Current Affairs | Permalink

CommentsPost a comment