Amid ongoing challenges to Barack Obama’s presidential eligibility, some have raised questions about the constitutional status of the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Gov. Mitt Romney, contending he was born in Mexico or that his father was not an American citizen at the time of his birth.
However, the available evidence shows that even under the strictest interpretation of Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, Romney is a natural-born citizen, according to Article 2, Section 1.
The questions have been raised because Romney’s grandparents went to Mexico in the 1800s, where Mitt Romney’s father, George W. Romney, was born, July 8, 1907.
According to a Romney family genealogy prepared by the London, England, LDS Temple, Romney’s grandparents – Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt Romney – were polygamous Mormons who fled the United States when the Mormon church disavowed polygamy. As the genealogy points out, polygamy was a federal crime in the U.S., but it was allowed in Mexico.
The grandparents were even married in Mexico, although each of them was born to a U.S. citizen father in U.S. sovereign territory.
- Gaskell Romney was born Sept. 22, 1871, in St. George, Washington County, in the Utah Territory;
- Anna Amelia Pratt Romney was born May 6, 1876, in Salt Lake City, in the Utah Territory.
After the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, the Mormon colonies began to be endangered, starting in 1911-1912 by raids from marauders. In response, Romney’s grandparents fled Mexico, taking their 5-year-old son, George W. Romney, with them. They settled first in Oakley, Idaho, and finally in Salt Lake City, Utah.
When George W. Romney ran for president in 1968, Charles Gordon, a counsel with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgetown Law Center, addressed the eligibility issue in an article in the Winter 1968 issue of the Maryland Law Review.
In the second paragraph of the article, titled “Who Can Be President of the United States: The Unresolved Enigma,” Gordon wrote:
“In the early stages of the 1968 presidential campaign this question became increasingly urgent, because Governor George Romney of Michigan was a leading contender for the Republican nomination. Governor Romney was born to American citizens in a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico, and came to the United States with his parents when he was five.”
After reviewing the history of the issue, Gordon concluded on the last page of his article that whether or not being born outside the United States disqualified George W. Romney from being president was never resolved during the 1968 presidential campaign:
“The withdrawal of Governor Romney has ended the possibility that clarification would emerge as a result of his candidacy.”
Gordon’s analysis is fairly typical of the treatment given in various law review articles of George W. Romney’s eligibility to be president.
In an often-cited law review article published by lawyer Christina S. Lohman in the Gonzaga Law Review, Volume 39, 2000-2001, titled “Presidential Eligibility: The Meaning of the Natural-born Citizen Clause,” she addresses George W. Romney as follows:
“The clause [Article 2, Section 1] did emerge from the constitutional woodwork when, in 1968, Governor George Romney of Michigan, born in Mexico to American parents, was in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination. Romney quickly dismissed concerns of potential presidential ineligibility by asserting natural-born status on the grounds that both his parents were American citizens. While Romney’s political pursuits produced temporary debate as to the exact meaning of “natural-born,” upon his fading, the issue paled in the political arena as well.”
The only direct Supreme Court discussion on point as to the meaning of “natural-born citizen” in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution remains Chief Justice Waite’s discussion in Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1874):
The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also.
As WND has reported, according to the standard that both parents must be U.S. citizens at the time of birth, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana would not qualify. Both have been discussed as future presidential candidates.
Is Mitt Romney a natural-born citizen?
Judging by the Happersett decision and most interpretations of the eligibility clause, a president’s parents would only have to be citizens of the U.S. at the time of his or her birth, not natural-born citizens.
Therefore, even if George W. Romney’s birth in Mexico disqualified him from being a natural-born citizen, Mitt Romney could be a natural-born citizen, because his father was a citizen when his son was born.
Opponents of George W. Romney’s presidential candidacy in 1968 argued that his grandparents had renounced their U.S. citizenship when they went to Mexico, but there is no evidence for that. Nor was it considered necessary for George W. Romney to become naturalized to be a U.S. citizen after he was brought to the United States for the first time when he was 5 years old.
Moreover, decades after George W. Romney was brought to the U.S. by his parents, the Nationality Act of 1940, Section 201, 54 Stat. 1137, specifically provided that a child born outside the limits and jurisdiction of the United States is a U.S. citizen, provided the father or mother, or both, at the time of the birth of the child is a U.S. citizen.
No debate of any importance can be found in the public record challenging George W. Romney’s citizenship in 1963, when he first ran to be Michigan’s 43rd governor.
Section 13 of the Michigan State Constitution provides: “No person shall be eligible to the office of governor or lieutenant governor who shall not have attained the age of 30 years and who has not been 5 years a citizen of the United States.”
Thus, according to the constitution of the State of Michigan, George W. Romney had to be a U.S. citizen to be Michigan’s governor.
In 1968, when he decided to run for president, the only serious debate at the time was whether George W. Romney was a natural-born citizen under Article 2, Section 1, not whether or not he was a U.S. citizen.
Mitt Romney, then, was born on March 12, 1947, in Detroit, Mich., to two U.S. citizen parents – George W. Romney and Lenore Emily LaFount; LaFount was a U.S. citizen, born on Nov. 9, 1908, in Logan, Utah.
Interestingly, LaFount, even though she was a U.S. citizen under the 14th Amendment because she was born in the United States and considered under the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of her birth, may not have been a natural-born citizen. It’s possible her father had not been naturalized as a U.S. citizen by the time she was born.
Her father, Harold Arundel LaFount was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, Jan. 5, 1880, and without further research it is uncertain whether he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen by the time his daughter was born.
Lenore Emily LaFount’s mother, Alma Luella Robison, was born in Montpelier, Idaho, on Aug. 19, 1882.
But even if neither of Mitt Romney’s parents were natural-born citizens, it would not prevent Mitt Romney himself from being a natural-born president.