July 13, 2005


Are You an Originalist?: Take this simple test and find out. (Edward Whelan, 7/13/05, National Review)

Here's my simple single-question multiple-choice test for whether you are an originalist:

Q. The Constitution provides, as one of the criteria to be eligible to become president, that a person must be a "natural born Citizen" (or, alternatively, in a provision that long ago ceased to apply to any living persons, "a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution") How would you figure out what the phrase "natural born Citizen" means?

(A) You would determine that the "natural born Citizen" requirement, whatever it means, is obviously a relic of a benighted and xenophobic past, a past that "evolving standards of decency," as reflected in modern European electoral practices, requires be abandoned. It simply isn't fair, you would conclude, that any candidates should be excluded by such an arbitrary requirement from running for president. You would invoke "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" as you instead substituted your own arbitrary criteria for eligibility.

(B) You would try to discern the current meaning of the phrase "natural born Citizen." Its closest connection would appear to be to the concept of natural childbirth. Therefore, you would conclude that only those whose mothers did not use drugs during birth satisfy the requirement.

(C) You would look to literature as your guide. Macbeth finds great comfort in the promise that "none of woman born/Shall harm" him. But his comfort proves unwarranted when Macduff, who "was from his mother's womb/Untimely ripp'd," kills Macbeth. It follows that anyone whose birth was by Cesarean section is not a "natural born Citizen."

(D) You would try to determine the public meaning of the "natural born Citizen" requirement at the time that the Constitution was adopted.

If it is obvious to you that the proper response is (D), then you are an originalist. If you think that the answer might be (A), then you are probably Justice Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, or Breyer. ,/blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 13, 2005 11:48 AM

How retrograde. There is no "text", only the triumph of the will. Pick your fuhrer carefully, dears.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 13, 2005 12:15 PM

Natural born?

You are confusing natural born with natural childbirth. Not the same thing. Couldn't have anything to do with painkilling drugs unknown to the founding persons.

Natural born could mean leaving the mother's womb the "natural" way, i.e., not by caesarium section, but I think I'll stick with the traditional interpretation of natural referring to the geographical location of the birth and not the actual act of being born.

Posted by: erp at July 13, 2005 12:41 PM

(C) is clever.

Aren't children born of American citizens in foreign countries eligible to become President ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 13, 2005 3:27 PM

Yes they are Michael. Remember George Romney.

Posted by: bart at July 13, 2005 4:18 PM

It's never been adjudicated.

Posted by: oj at July 13, 2005 4:49 PM

The man who oj delusionally thinks will be our next President wasn't born in the US...

Posted by: b at July 14, 2005 1:57 AM