General Question

Soubresaut's avatar

Is it right for a country to restrict eligibility for President (or its leader position) based on a person's circumstances at birth?

Asked by Soubresaut (13188points) 1 week ago

(I’m thinking specifically of the President of the US, partly because I live in the US, and partly because I was inspired to ask this question based on another recent question about eligibility for POTUS. You are welcome broaden it to other types of government leaders, or even other government positions, if that’s more relevant to you; I don’t think the title of the government position substantially changes the question.)

I’m not opposed to eligibility requirements as a concept more broadly. And I know of other requirements that seem to have some amount of rationale behind their implementation—requiring the person to be a citizen, to be of a minimum age or older, even to have lived in the country for a specified amount of time prior to running for office. Fine.

I don’t see a good reason to restrict eligibility based on whether or not a person’s birth qualifies them to be called a “natural citizen.” Saying, Well, that’s just what the rules say, doesn’t seem like a particularly good reason.

So I’m not asking whether it’s what the rules say. I’m asking: Should it be what the rules say? Why or why not?

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17 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

I don’t think there’s any good reason to restrict who can be president based on where and/or to whom they were born. The natural-born citizen clause received no debate at the Constitutional Convention, so we don’t have a lot to go on with regard to why it was included. But it has generally been thought of as a way of preventing foreign influence over the presidency.

The two obvious problems with this are: (1) the notion that foreign-born people have some sort of innate conflict of interest and are therefore unavoidably compromised is grounded in baseless stereotypes, and (2) natural-born people are also vulnerable to foreign influence. Affection for one’s place of birth does not necessarily entail undue loyalty.

Sure, it would have been absurd to let King George III run for President of the United States, but a citizenship requirement and a residency requirement are enough to achieve any good that a natural birth requirement could possible achieve. And the Founders knew this. After all, they exempted themselves from the natural-born citizen clause.

stanleybmanly's avatar

So you’re asking should there be rules? I believe the issue of the rules is a red herring. By this I mean if you consider the rules as they stand, then observe the list of those elected, clearly the UNWRITTEN rules are much more significant than any statutes. Were you to view our Presidential history and write the rules based on the record, those rules would indicate that a President must be male, white and rich. From our 45 Presidents, the 4 or 5 exceptions deviating from these
requirements convince me of the rules which ACTUALLY MATTER.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I get why people say it should in theory be fine to allow someone not born on native soil to be president only I don’t think it’s based on simple stereotypes. It was intended to keep outside influences from installing a manchurian candidate. This is something that does happen and it should be a concern to any nation with free elections. If the last election showed me anything it’s that we still really have those. This also mostly guarantees that the person seeking office would have been raised in American culture and will be more likely to be loyal to the United States. While not fool-proof it’s a still roadblock or at least a speed bump. I see no problem with this rule.

Jeruba's avatar

How about countries whose leadership is restricted to those in the royal line of succession? Now, there’s a limiting rule.

What you’re questioning is essentially whether nations have a right to establish and maintain their own systems of government—to choose how they are constituted (their constitutions). I think they have, don’t you?

zenvelo's avatar

Well it isn’t wrong.

But it maybe that we have missed the opportunity for some great leaders. If not for the natural citizen requirement, I would have pushed for Arnold Scwarzenegger for President in 2016.

seawulf575's avatar

I think the problem you are running into is the term “natural born citizen”. It is one of those terms that seems to be self evident, but isn’t. For instance, if a person is born outside the US, say, while the parents are on vacation…is that person a natural born citizen? What about if one parent is from another country and one parent is from the US? It isn’t totally clear and it has never been challenged enough to go to the SCOTUS to get it defined once and for all.
I think you need to have rules concerning who can lead your country. As @ARE_you_kidding_me said, you need to protect yourself from outside interference. And for the most part, the rules are pretty self-explanatory.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@stanleybmanly “So you’re asking should there be rules?”

She explicitly said she’s fine with rules (from the OP: “I’m not opposed to eligibility requirements as a concept more broadly. And I know of other requirements that seem to have some amount of rationale behind their implementation”) but wonders if this specific rule ought to be the case.

@ARE_you_kidding_me “I don’t think it’s based on simple stereotypes”

Since I’m the only person who mentioned stereotypes, I have to assume this is meant as a response to me. But of course, it isn’t a response to anything I said since I didn’t say that the rule was based on simple stereotypes. I said that it was meant to prevent foreign influence over the presidency, which is basically the same thing you said. But I then went on to point out why a natural-born citizenship requirement doesn’t actually achieve this goal (certainly not any better than other, less restrictive—and therefore more freedom preserving—options).

@Jeruba “What you’re questioning is essentially whether nations have a right to establish and maintain their own systems of government”

Again, that’s clearly not what she’s asking. She’s asking whether this particular rule ought to be the rule.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@SavoirFaire Not a direct response to you. I just don’t think that it’s a stereotype that foreigners are more likely to hold conflicts of interest in the context of running for leadership positions here. There are spies all over D.C.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@SavoirFaire Alright. To stick within the parameters, I don’t think it matters where you were born or for that matter, how old you are. As evidence I suggest that a President Trump’s regime or policies would not vary noticeably were he born in Minsk and took office at age 9.

Jeruba's avatar

@SavoirFaire , that “ought” implies some sort of moral or ethical yardstick against which rightness (“Is it right for a country to restrict eligibility”) can be measured. There is no such thing other than what people have constructed and agreed to follow, or what has been imposed on them by some authority. It isn’t a matter of individual personal opinion.

In the case of societies, that yardstick is implicit in its norms and conventions and codified in its laws. Its leadership is characterized by the one and defined by the other. If our Constitution were all one and none of the other, we would have no need of interpretation by the courts.

In questioning what is right for our country, the OP is appealing to some authority other than written law and its judicial interpretations. We don’t have national agreement on what moral or ethical authority that might be. In practical terms, then, the question is meaningless. But to the extent that we have confidence in the wisdom and beneficence of our founders and their successors, to that extent we presume that the Constitution and the body of laws already express or imply a notion of rightness. It is in that regard that I say the question pertains to our system of government.

Soubresaut's avatar

Thank you @SavoirFaire for clarifying what I meant with this question.

@ARE_you_kidding_me—I can understand the need to keep out foreign influence, but I’m not sure the natural born citizen rule meaningfully accomplishes that, and that would be the problem (along with the cost of citizens who are prevented from being president). You mentioned spies in DC. Is a foreign spy being elected as president a pressing concern, and only avoidable with a natural-born clause?

@Jeruba—yep, I’m asking you to pull out your ethical yardstick and measure the “rightness” of this particular law. I don’t think that’s a meaningless question. We use our individual and collective judgment all the time—we don’t just look to the way things have been established and say that we must defer judgment because it’s already been written that way. It’s not like people of the 18th century are inherently more capable of considering ethics and the practical consequences of laws than we are today, well over 200 years advance of them.

Jeruba's avatar

@Soubresaut, it looks to me as if you were inferring that I’ve offered an answer to the question. I haven’t. I’ve simply restated it in the terms that I think it implies. You’re welcome to differ with my interpretation, of course; it’s your question. But please don’t ascribe to me an answer that I haven’t given.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me The “dual loyalties” trope is very old and quite pervasive. I’m not sure how you’ve managed to miss it. In any case, no one argues that the rule is based on stereotypes, only that some of the underlying justifications for the rule themselves engage in stereotypes.

I also agree with @Soubresaut that the natural-born citizenship clause accomplishes what you think it does. Someone born in the United States and then immediately whisked away to another country and brainwashed for 35 years by whatever anti-American organization you choose meets the natural-born citizen requirement. Someone who escaped the Soviet Union at age 10 and spent the next 25 years railing against communism does not. So the requirement to be a natural-born citizen doesn’t really ”[guarantee] that the person seeking office would have been raised in American culture and will be more likely to be loyal to the United States.” Of course, a citizenship requirement combined with a residency requirement doesn’t guarantee this either. But it probably does a better job than merely requiring someone to be born in the country.

@Jeruba Would you have a similar problem with the question if it were about slavery? That is to say, do you think that whether or not a nation allows slavery is a morally-neutral choice that countries get to make as part of their right to establish and maintain their own systems of government” and ineligible for moral evaluation?

Also, isn’t “what people have agreed to” a type of yardstick? That morality or law may be an invention, after all, does not entail that anything goes. So one could just as easily interpret the “ought” of the question as being about internal consistency with American laws and ideals without abandoning the fact that the question asks us to make an ethical judgment.

Jeruba's avatar

@SavoirFaire, “similar problem”? What problem is that?

Soubresaut's avatar

@Jeruba I guess I’m really misunderstanding what you’re saying. I thought in your first response you reinterpreted my question as “whether nations have a right to establish and maintain their own systems of government,”—and this was pointed out above, but I’m not asking about the abstract right of nations to have rules. I’m asking about whether this specific rule is a good one for a nation to have in place.

In your second response, it sounds like you’re saying that it’s “meaningless” to ask whether this specific rule is right, that there “is no such thing other than what people have constructed and agreed to follow, or what has been imposed on them by some authority. It isn’t a matter of individual personal opinion.” Except my question is about personal opinion. I’m not asking how rules are established in an abstract sense. I’m not asking whether this rule has the weight of law behind it (of course it does, it’s currently part of the law). I’m asking: Do you think this rule is right?

Soubresaut's avatar

@seawulf575—I’m not worried so much about the wording itself, or whether the law is self-explanatory. I’m also not questioning the abstract concept of needing rules “concerning who can lead the country.” I’m fine with that concept. As I’ve asked others, do you think this specific rule is right (as it has been interpreted and applied)?—Should it be the way it is?

JLeslie's avatar

I think it shouldn’t be a requirement to be a natural born citizen, but I do think it makes sense that a person must spend a certain amount of years in the US to be eligible. I’m not sure if it has to be during the years growing up, or years immediately before running for president or what. I never sorted that in my head.

If someone comes to America at 2 years old with their parents who are immigrating here, the 2 year old basically is raised as an American no different than being born here. I think of my own niece and nephew. He was born in America, to green card holding parents and then left the country before the age of one and returned for first grade living here ever since. His sister was born outside of the country and came here when she was 2 years old living here ever since. Is there really any fundamental difference between the two of them in terms of how American they are based on their experience?

I do think there needs to be some sort of rules, but I do think It’s easy to argue this requirement for president should be debated. I also think our birthright citizenship should be debated also. The problem is, with politics today it’s hard to trust the intentions of people on both of these topics.

@ARE_you_kidding_me A person does not need to be born on native sound to be eligible to be president in the US, they just need to be born with the right of citizenships. Ted Cruz, George Romney, John McCain all were not born in America.

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