July 11, 2008

Fresh Nonsense For Your Contemplation

John Sidney McCain III, the presumptive Republican nominee for President in 2008, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, the son of two U.S. citizens. There is a way of interpreting case and statutory law to indicate that this means that, under the laws prevailing at the time, he was not a U.S. citizen at birth, but rather was retroactively naturalized when the citizenship law was revised in 1937 -- eleven months after he had been born.

Preposterous. His parents were U.S. citizens, one of them a military officer stationed in the Canal Zone by orders of the U.S. Government. And before the Iowa caucus, Congress passed a resolution clarifying its belief -- with strong Democratic support -- that Senator McCain was Constitutionally eligible to be President. Of course, there is litigation on the matter, pending currently in New Hampshire (at least, according to the Gray Lady, which seems to find this theory delicious in a most unseemly and partisan manner).

So was he a citizen of Panama at birth, then? Hardly. Panama has never claimed him. The Canal Zone was under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the United States at the time. The Republic of Panama had no more power in the Canal Zone than it had over Nebraska. I've not researched Panamanian law (and neither has the author of the paper suggesting McCain was not an American citizen at birth) but it seems doubtful to me that Panama would have asserted a claim that this newborn child of a U.S. officer on a U.S. military base in an area of exclusive U.S. jurisdiction was Panamaian.

Was he a citizen of no nation for the first eleven months of his life, then? Such a thing is, to my knowledge, an impossibility under the conventions of international law.* Every person has to have at least some level of citizenship in a nation regardless of the locus of one's birth. For instance, the high seas are beyond the territory of any nation, but children have been born on the high seas for a long time and it has always been the convention that such children have the citizenship of at least one of their parents rather than the flag of the ship on which they were born. If McCain had been born on the high seas, particularly if he had been on a U.S. vessel, there would be no doubt that he would have been a citizen of the United States from birth. So even if the Canal Zone was a legal "no man's land" in 1936, we are dealing with the absence of any controlling legal authority and we must find a legal analogy -- and being born on the high seas on a U.S. vessel is the closest thing I can think of.

Antarctica is another interesting issue -- I don't know if any children have been born in Antarctica, but if so, such a child would seem to have claims to the citizenship of her parents, or debatably could claim citizenship in her choice of the United States, Great Britain, Norway, Germany, France, Russia, China, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia, all of which have issued and subsequently reserved territorial claims over the southern continent. But such a child's strongest claim to citizenship would seem to be based upon her parents' citizenship.

Anyway, I find the idea that John McCain has not been a citizen since birth preposterous. It would take a high level of anti-McCain desperation to hope that such an argument could be used to keep him out of the White House. Nor should Obama's proponents even dignify the argument with recognition -- they should instead, advance their own candidate on his own merits. That's been working fine for them so far.

* Yes, there are stateless people, or at least there have been, throughout history. Albert Einstein renounced his German citizenship at one point in his life and did not gain new legal citizenship for several years (but was a resident of the United States and Switzerland, both of which wound up naturalizing him). But it seems that in almost every instance, one becomes stateless for some reason, rather than being born in to statelessness. One may also be born a refugee, but even if so, then one's refugee status is that of one's parents, like Gypsies or Palestinians.

No comments: