The definition of “natural born citizen” might weigh heavy on the minds of the Supreme Court Justices later this year. If John McCain wins the election this November, this very phrase, may be the basis of a lawsuit by the Democratic Party.
Article II of Constitution mandates that the President be a natural born citizen, but fails to define this phrase. The origin of this phrase is said to be from a letter by John Jay to insure loyalty of both the generals and then later the president. Traditionally this meant that the citizen must be born a citizen, and this traditionally meant born in one of the States, and not another country.
The issue we now face is that John McCain was born in the Canal Zone in Panama. While the territory was owned by the United States by treaty, it was not even a territory or Commonwealth with a civilian government. It was under military rule, not a civilian government. Additionally, the law that granted citizenship to persons born in the Canal Zone to American citizen parents retroactively did not enter into effect until well after John McCain was born. This situation varies significantly from Al Gore or Barry Goldwater, who were born in Washington DC and the Arizona Territory respectively.
John McCain was not granted citizenship via statute until well after he was born, although it applied retroactively. The question for the high court will be whether the fact that John McCain was born of US citizens on a military installation is consistent with the idea of natural-born citizen, or whether they will take a more literal view of having to be born in the United States proper.
I would think that the court will find that John McCain fits the spirit of the law and that most Americans will accept such a ruling. He was a citizen by all meaningful definitions and was not a citizen of another country, and therefore should be eligible for the Presidency.