New Initiatives to Eliminate the Natural-Born Citizen Requirement in the U.S. Constitution


New Initiatives to Eliminate the Natural-Born Citizen
Requirement in the U.S. Constitution

John Yinger
October 7, 2004

On October 5, 2004, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate held hearings on proposals to eliminate the natural-born citizen requirement in the U.S. Constitution.  The hearings were convened by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, chair of the committee, whose Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, S. J. Res. 15, would make naturalized citizens eligible to run for President after they had been citizens for 20 years (and met the other requirements in the presidential eligibility clause).  The same amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives, H. J. Res. 104, by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who testified at the hearings.[1]

Several other proposals also were presented at the hearings.  Representatives John Conyers, Jr., Barney Frank, and Darrell Issa spoke about The President and Vice President Eligibility for Office Bill, H. J. Res. 59, which would allow anyone to run for President once they have been a citizen for 35 years.  This amendment, which was sponsored by Representative Vic Snyder and co-sponsored by Representatives Conyers, Frank, and Issa as well as Representatives Ray LaHood, William D. Delahunt, and Christopher Shays, is worded so that the citizenship requirement replaces the age requirement.  The 14-residency requirement is retained.[2]  This amendment was first introduced on 6/11/2003.

The key difference between these proposals is the time-of-citizenship requirement.  One of the witnesses at the hearing, Dr. Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation, urged the Senate to set of time-of-citizenship requirement that would ensure the loyalty of a presidential candidate.  I believe, and said so at the hearings, that this approach is a mistake.  A time-of-citizenship requirement does nothing to ensure loyalty.  It is neither necessary nor sufficient for identifying a loyal candidate.  Indeed, as I explain in my testimony, the natural-born citizen requirement has exactly the same flaw, which is key reason why it should be eliminated.

Although elimination of second-class citizenship for all naturalized citizens would require a constitutional amendment, full citizenship for foreign-born adoptees, a subset of naturalized citizens, might be achieved through the Natural Born Citizen Act, S. 2128, introduced by Senators Don Nickles, Mary Landrieu, and Jim Inhofe.[3]  This bill, which was defended by Senator Nickles at the Senate hearings, provides a definition of a natural-born citizen that includes foreign-born adoptees.  If it were passed and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, therefore, it would allow foreign-born adoptees, but not other naturalized citizens, to run for President.  It is not clear whether this approach would be accepted by the Supreme Court.

More information on the hearings, including statements submitted by the witnesses, can be found at  

My written statement can be found at this site or at

My oral remarks can be found at


[1] For some reason, S. J. Res. 15 and H. J. Res. 104 use the term “native born” instead of the phrase in the Constitution, namely, “natural born.”  This will undoubtedly cause some confusion.

[2] On 9/03/2003, Representative Conyers introduced a version of The President and Vice President Eligibility for Office Bill, H. J. Res. 67, which also set a 20-year time-of-citizenship requirement. This proposal has flawed wording, however, because its 20-year time-of-citizenship requirement appears to override 35-year age requirement, and Representative Conyers is now a co-sponsor of H. J. Res. 59.

[3] Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (Public Law No: 106-395)foreign-born adoptees become citizens as soon as their adoptions are final, with no need for a separate naturalization process.  As a result, it is not clear that they are naturalized citizens.  S. 2128 resolves this ambiguity by defining them as natural-born citizens.