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Hearing Set on Nonnative Citizens and Presidency

September 29, 2004|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing next week on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other naturalized Americans to serve as president.

Taking a small step on a proposal that is considered a political long shot, the office of committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, the amendment's sponsor, announced the Oct. 5 hearing Tuesday night with little fanfare.

Article II of the Constitution restricts the presidency to "natural born" citizens. That phrase, rooted in early 18th century English common law, has barred anyone not born a U.S. citizen from the presidency. Hatch's amendment proposes to eliminate the phrase and substitute a requirement that a citizen of at least 20 years is eligible to seek the nation's highest office.

Schwarzenegger, who supports the amendment, became a citizen in September 1983. A native of the Austrian province of Styria, he is a citizen of both the United States and Austria.

Hatch scheduled a hearing on his proposal in summer 2003 but later postponed it. Even if a hearing were to proceed, it would not guarantee a vote on the proposal, and action is considered unlikely this year.

But backers of the idea said that just the hearing alone -- combined with three proposals in the House of Representatives to eliminate the "natural born" clause -- demonstrates momentum that could lead to serious debate in the years ahead.

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