Analysis: Legal Scholar Asserts U.S. Constitution Disqualifies Nikki Haley from Presidential or Vice-Presidential Candidacy

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Written By Maya Cantina

American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who served as managing editor of Reuters from 2011 to 2016, Paul Ingrassia, has reignited the fiery debate over what it means to be a “natural born citizen” under the U.S. Constitution—a debate with significant implications for potential presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

Published on American Greatness, Mr. Ingrassia, a Law Clerk, a two-time Claremont Fellow, and a member of President Trump’s National Economic Council, meticulously examined the constitutional provision that has been at the heart of eligibility controversies involving political figures from John McCain to Kamala Harris.

At the core of his argument is Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which Ingrassia insists unambiguously mandates that only “natural born citizens” of the United States are eligible to assume the presidency.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 states, “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.”

The distinction between “natural born citizen” and “birthright citizenship” is central to Ingrassia’s analysis. The former term, he reminds us, is expressly reserved for those born on American soil to U.S. citizen parents, a requirement not emulated for other federal offices. This stringent criterion traces back to the Founding Fathers’ fears of foreign influence at the highest level of government.

The debate isn’t new. Presidential campaigns of John McCain (R), Barack Obama (D), Ted Cruz (R), and Kamala Harris (D) have all faced scrutiny under this clause.

Legal scholars continue to explore this terrain, with some, like Lawrence Solum, suggesting that being born in the U.S. to citizen parents suffices for being considered a natural-born citizen.

John Eastman’s arguments regarding Kamala Harris further highlight the complexity of this issue, proposing that the status of one’s parents at birth is crucial in determining eligibility.

In Nikki Haley’s situation, reports indicate that her parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of her birth in 1972. This fact, according to the Constitution’s standards as interpreted by Ingrassia, disqualifies her from presidential or vice-presidential candidacy under the Twelfth Amendment.

Ingrassia highlights that although she may claim citizenship by birthplace, this does not satisfy the ‘natural-born’ requirement as enforced by the Constitution.

The discussion, Ingrassia notes, diverges from the precedent of Wong Kim Ark, where the Supreme Court addressed birthright citizenship but did not conflate this with the specific breed of natural-born citizenship needed for presidential eligibility.

American Greatness reported:

In Nikki Haley’s case, it is well documented that neither one of her parents were citizens, natural born or naturalized, at the time of her birth in 1972. It has been previously reported that a South Carolina-based newspaper included a quote from the Office of Nikki Haley, stating that “her parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of her birth in 1972 and did not become citizens until 1978 and 2003.”

Thus, although the parents may have been lawful residents at the time of her birth on South Carolina soil, which may or may not confer her with the privileges of citizenship, it is important to note that she does not qualify for the Constitution’s higher requirement of natural-born citizenship.

In addition, the Twelfth Amendment states that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” In short, because Haley is ineligible to serve as president, having not satisfied the Presidential Eligibility Clause, she also cannot serve as vice president. Now, the vast majority of legal scholarship offering an opinion to the contrary will cite the seminal Supreme Court decision, Wong Kim Ark. The relevant issue there, however, was not whether someone whose natural born citizenship was in question might serve in the highest office of the land, but rather whether such a person was entitled to the bare minimums of American citizenship.

Thus, the legal issues are completely different. The Court in Wong Kim Ark decided whether citizenship might be conferred upon an individual born on American soil to non-citizen parents. Importantly, in Wong Kim Arknowhere does the Court ever state that natural-born citizens are synonymous with citizens. While numerous equivalences are made between “natural-born” citizens (or “subjects;” the terms are used interchangeably throughout, even though there is a relevant legal distinction) and citizens, the Court notably took pains to distinguish between the two categories, merely analogizing the two for the purposes of ultimately arguing in favor of birthright citizenship.

Regardless of the ultimate legitimacy of the decision, which many constitutional scholars have contested over the intervening years, the important takeaway is that even in Wong Kim Ark, the supposed authority in favor of Haley’s eligibility to run for president, the Court never asserted that birthright citizenship would hereinafter absorb and eradicate the distinct category of “natural-born” citizenship.

It may well be argued that the reason the Court in Wong Kim Ark upheld that distinction was that it contemplated future cases like Nikki Haley’s, where a non-natural-born citizen might ask not merely for the bare minimum rights of citizenship but additional rights, namely the right to be eligible to run for president, which runs afoul of both the textual prerogative and original meaning of the Constitution itself.

The logic of this is intuitive: the bare necessities of American citizenship, consistent with the principles of natural right, do not entail that additional rights must be conferred on that basis alone. Nature, in other words, does not automatically confer one with the presidential office nor the bare minimum duties, such as age and time residing in the country, requirements that the Framers wrote into the Presidential Eligibility Clause.

You can read the whole article at American Greatness.


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