Natural born citizen

A phrase denoting one of the requirements for becoming President or Vice-President of the United States.

Anyone born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 must be a "natural born Citizen" of the United States to constitutionally fill the office of President or Vice-President.  See U.S. Const. art. II, § 1id. at amend. XII. The constitution does not expressly define “natural born” nor has the Supreme Court ever ruled precisely upon its meaning. One can be a citizen while not being a "natural born" citizen if, for example, they gained their citizenship through the process of naturalization.

Consensus exists that anyone born on U.S. soil and subject to its jurisdiction is a natural born citizen, regardless of parental citizenship. See United States v. Wong Kim Ark14th Amendment. The Supreme Court noted in Perkins v. Elg that this is true even of citizens who were born in the United States yet grew up in foreign countries.

There is some debate over whether or not one may also be a natural born citizen if, despite a birth on foreign soil, U.S. citizenship immediately passes from the person's parents.

In 1790, the First Congress passed a naturalization act stating that “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens…” While no longer in effect, this act may indicate that the framers of the constitution (many of whom served in the First Congress) contemplated that such foreign-born citizens would be considered natural born. Some constitutional scholars, including former heads of the Office of the Solicitor General Neal Katyal and Paul Clement in a recent article, argue that this thinking is also in line with the definition of natural born at English law at the time (and thus that such citizens are "natural born" as used in the constitution).

Such citizenship is controlled by congressional statute under the authority granted in article I section 8 of the Constitution, and consequently the requirements or existence of such citizenship have changed over time. As a result, citizenship has not always been granted to foreign-born children of U.S. citizens in a consistent manner. See, generally, United States v. Wong Kim Ark.

Today, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 defines naturalization as “conferring of nationality of a state upon a person after birth, by any means whatsoever.” In contrast, § 1401 lists eight categories of peoples who are "nationals and citizens of the United States at birth," including those born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction as well as children of one or more U.S. citizens abroad as long as the parent(s) meet certain requirements (often having been present in the U.S. for some number of years).

This means that foreign-born citizens falling under a provision in 1401 are, by statutory definition, not naturalized. The term "natural born" is not used, however.



Last Edited by Maxwell Slade, June 2016