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Joanne Bamberger Headshot

Ms. POTUS 2036 ??

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I thought it was pretty clear cut in eighth grade civics class -- to be President of the United States, you have to born in one of the 50 states. Period. A "natural born citizen."

Friends have often commented that PunditGirl, being the opinionated daughter that she is (you're REALLY surprised, right?!), should run for President when she grows up. During this campaign, she's embraced that idea.

"Mommy, I make good decisions. Maybe I should be President some day."

My usual reply is to tell her that she would make a great President. But unless we get an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jennifer Granholm amendment to the Constitution, she'll never be allowed to run because she was born in China.

Even though she became an American citizen the moment our flight from Beijing landed in the United States on that frigid winter afternoon in January 2001, President of the United States is the one job she can never have since she is not a "natural born citizen."

Our British friends have a daughter who was born in the United States -- SHE could be President someday even though she will most likely live most of her life in London. But unless there are some significant Constitutional changes in the coming decades, PunditGirl will never be able to put her art on the big desk in the Oval Office or invite me to have tea in the Rose Garden.

At the moment, I don't have the heart to tell her any of that. I figure she'll learn soon enough and by then she'll be over her desire to let me live with her in the White House. But I DO have the heart to tell John McCain that he shouldn't be eligible to be elected POTUS for the exact same reason -- he isn't a natural born U.S. citizen.

There have been a few passing reports about the fact that McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone to U.S. citizen parents. McCain and others claim that's good enough. To aid his cause, Congress passed a resolution saying just that, allowing McCain to pass 'Go' and collect his presidential campaign contributions.

While it's been a few years since I practiced law, I'm pretty sure that a Congressional resolution doesn't trump the Constitution which plainly says:

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 ...

"Natural born" means a citizen at birth. And the authors of a recent article seem convinced that John McCain is not covered. The Panama Canal Zone was an unincorporated territory at the time of his birth. Even though Congress passed a law not long after little John was born to bestow citizenship on those born in the Canal Zone, it doesn't make him natural born.

Of course, some legal minds -- Theodore Olson and Laurence Tribe (a Barack Obama supporter) -- claim there is nothing for McCain to worry about.

In reality, I don't have a really strong opinion about whether someone born to American parents on a military base at the Panama Canal should be prevented from running for President of the United States (though it would be a handy loophole this year to cause more havoc for the Republicans!).

But in 2008, it's time to re-examine whether, in a country of immigrants, we should hang on to this requirement. Of course it was important to the Founding Fathers -- they didn't want any of the King's subjects sneaking in and taking over their new country. But things have changed and it's time to challenge whether it's really important for an American citizen to have been born on American soil as a qualification to be President.

You know if the facts were the same, but the name was changed to the Democratic candidate, the Supreme Court would come back into a summer session faster than they could say, "President John McCain" to ensure that such a candidate didn't make it on the ballot in November.

So while I wouldn't mind if a technicality worked to the Democrats' benefit in 2008, what I'd really like to see is a bipartisan effort to amend the Constitution so that if she wanted to, PunditGirl really could run for President some day. After all, I've already got some decorating plans in mind for the Lincoln Bedroom!

You can also find PunditMom getting all political and wonky at BlogHer, where she is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News, as well as MOMocrats and D.C. Metro Moms.