Monday, April 18, 2016

Constitution Series Part 16: Article II, Section 1, Clauses 5 through 8

Today we'll finish Section 1 of Article II, which mostly details the process by which a President is elected. Honestly, the fact that this process has remained more or less unchanged for the past two centuries is pretty incredible. Our Constitution is ridiculously scale-able.


Section 1
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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
I've gone over the requirements to become President in previous posts outside of this Constitution Series, so I won't rehash that too much. Instead, I'll focus on things I didn't really focus on last time.

Unlike other federal offices, the President can not be an immigrant. At least, not anymore. Alexander Hamilton, for instance, was technically an immigrant, but he was a citizen "at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution," so he would have been eligible for the presidency had he decided to run. Obviously, though, that provision doesn't apply to anyone today.

I joked about the "natural born citizen" phrase before, suggesting that "test tube babies" are ineligible, but that's not actually what it means. It's a reference to common law, and it basically means that even if you're born outside of the United States, if your parents are both United States citizens then so are you. This came up a bit in the current presidential primary race, in which Donald Trump has suggested that Ted Cruz may not be eligible for the presidency since he was born in Canada. The term "natural born citizen," however, rules in Cruz's favor, which is why most people don't even remember that accusation anymore.

The requirement of being a "natural born Citizen" was put in place because the founders wanted to make certain that the President's loyalties were undivided. Imagine, for instance, an immigrant who spent the first ten years of their life living in Brazil. Though they may have spent the successive 25 years or more in the United States, would they not be inclined to show favoritism toward their home country?

I'm not entirely sure I buy that argument. After all, this is a nation of immigrants, and many people whose families have been here for generations still proudly trace their ancestry to Ireland, Italy, China, Kenya, and so on. Is there anyone in the country with no ties to another country? Can anyone claim to be truly impartial?

That said, though the measure may not be perfect, it mitigates the possibility of divided loyalties somewhat.
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected
Here we have the Vice President's most important job: taking the place of the President if anything happens to him. This can apply either permanently (if the President dies or resigns) or temporarily (if the President falls deathly ill for a few days). This is what's meant by "Disability" in the text, and why "Disability" can be removed.

If something were to happen to both the President and Vice President, Congress would be allowed to determine an officer to act as President. Congress has since established a line of succession, starting with the Speaker of the House.

Interestingly, the text does not indicate that the Vice President would become President if something happens, but rather than he would act as President until a new President is elected. Or, at least, the text isn't really clear on that, which resulted in some confusion every now and then.

The 25th Amendment made this clause more clear on some of the details on how, exactly, succession worked, though that wasn't until 1967.
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
The President gets paid! In 1789, the President got paid an annual salary of $25,000 which, adjusting for inflation, amounts to nearly $700,000 in today's money. Today the President is paid $400,000 annually, plus a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 travel account, and a $19,000 entertainment fund.

A President can not authorize a raise for themselves, unless they're re-elected after the raise is authorized. To be honest, though, that salary sounds pretty alright to me. That may not be the case in 15-20 years as inflation takes its toll, but for now that sounds like a great salary and set of benefits.

Benjamin Franklin suggested that the President should receive no compensations whatsoever, though that idea was dismissed. If there was no compensation, then the only people who could afford to become President would be people who were already independently wealthy, which didn't sit well with many of the founders.

"Emolument" isn't a common word, and probably bears explaining. An emolument is basically a tip or, to illustrate the concern, a bribe. States specifically are prevented from compensating the President, lest they sway the President to show favoritism. Though it depends on how the state is compensating the President. For instance, Ronald Reagan received payments from the state of California as a retired governor, which was deemed permissible since those payments were not a gift but a state obligation.
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Presidential Oath of Office is recited at every inauguration, traditionally with their right hand on the Bible. This is the only oath explicitly written out in the Constitution, and it's not clear what would happen if a President refuses to take the Oath.

Some believe that this clause, given the words in the Oath, empower the President to interpret the Constitution and execute the powers of their office based on that interpretation. In fact, the language of the Oath seems to suggest that it's the President's duty to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" at all costs, including taking steps beyond what is strictly Constitutional.

However, I find that interpretation ridiculous. I don't believe you can ignore the Constitution while defending it. To do so is to weaken the Constitution, which runs directly counter to the Oath. The only way to truly preserve and protect the Constitution is to defend it within the limitations it sets forth, including deference to Congress and the Supreme Court where prescribed.

Continue to Part 17: Article II, Section 2, Clause 1

No comments:

Post a Comment