Schwarzenegger can not become US President because he was not born in the United States. Why then can McCain, who was born in Panama?

There are three criteria in the U.S.-American constitution that a candidate must satisfy in order to enter into the President's Office; he must be at least 35 years old, he must have lived at least 14 years in the United States and he must be a “natural born citizen.” Whether the Republican candidate, John McCain, fulfills the latter is currently heavily discussed in the USA. It is undisputed that the Senator from Arizona was born on May 29th, 1936 on the US air force base Coco Solo where his father was stationed and his mother also lived. The base lies in the Panama Canal Zone, which, at that time, was already a part of Panama and was merely controlled by the United States. The territory was not a part of the U.S., McCain was therefore born outside of the United States.

Until recently his birth town was still on McCain’s homepage, but now his life begins with his visit to college.

The phrase “natural born citizen” is interpreted in the United States as one must have come into the world on U.S. soil. California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can therefore not become president, even though he has had US citizenship for years. This must also hold true for the 71 year old Senator. In contrast, legal experts point to the fact that the Panama Canal Zone was at that time U.S. territory and therefore the legal requirements for Presidential office are fulfilled. “There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain, or any other in his position, is suitable by the constitution” says lawyer Sarah H. Duggin, quoted in the New York Times, “but there is no precedent. It is not yet dead and buried.”

McCain’s advisers remember that the problem was already examined in the Senator's fight for the Republican presidential candidacy in 1999, has also been renewed for the current election and has been looked a little closer at.


The question of what is exactly meant by “natural born is not definitively clarified and is itself disputed among experts." In 1790 Congress passed an amendment three years after the wording was established in the constitution that children of citizens are also considered “natural born” when they were born outside of the country’s borders. However, this law is still potentially unconstitutional, because a later successor to the amendement neglected to mention birth town aspect..

Until today, neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has made the disputed wording concrete. It was also unnecessary as no one who has ever moved into the White House has been born outside of the 50 United States.


McCain is not the first presidential hopeful who must coordinate his suitability with the Constitution. The Republican Barry Goldwater, like McCain from Arizona, ran in 1964 for the highest office in the USA. Goldwater was born in 1909--three years before Arizona became a state. Due to the fact that he lost the election, the case remained unexamined. The same happened in 1968 to George Romney (the father of McCain’s former rival Mitt Romney) who was born in Mexico. He lost the Republican candidacy running against Richard Nixon and the constitution question remained unanswered.

Whether McCain's case brings about a clarification depends on whether a loud debate over his eligibility develops.


Now even the Senate has worked on the question and unanimously decided that McCain, in the case of an electoral victory, can take the highest office in the country. The Democratic Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, also voted for the corresponding commitment.

Therefore McCain is “according to the feeling of the Senate” constitutionally suitable for the President's Office. “The Senate should decide this and prepare for an end to the discussion,” said the Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the legal committee, before the vote. In the resolution it says, “John Sidney McCain III is the child of American citizens and was born in 1936 in an American military base in the Panama Canal Zone: herewith be it decided, that John Sidney McCain III is a “natural born citizen” according to Article II, paragraph 1, of the constitution of the United States.”


But even this clarification does not satisfy critics. Some urge a decision from the Supreme Court, others call into question that McCain was not even born on the military base. In a blog one user wrote, McCain, born in the year 1936, gave a false place of birth, namely a hospital on the base. Before 1941 there were no hospitals there, with reference to a U.S. Navy documentary, and adds, “officially we were lied to!”