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The Constitutional qualifications for American federal office
I often read something or listen to someone and, like Sherlock Holmes who observed in “Hounds of the Baskerville” that the dog didn’t bark, I wonder what is not written or stated. So, in the U.S. Constitution, what are the minimum qualifications for a president? Article II, Section 1, clause 3, provides just three, having to do with naturalization, age, and length of residency in the country. A different provision, Article VI, excludes a religious test.
Under the Twelfth Amendment, there are same qualifications for vice president as president. And there are similar minimal qualifications for a Representative (age, citizenship, residency, in Art. I, Sec. 2, clause 2) and Senator (age, citizenship, residency, in Art. I, Sec. 3, cl. 3).
What’s missing? Or, what qualifications might there have been that weren’t? There’s nothing about experience. Nothing about having served in any other elected or appointed offices, such as U.S. Senator or governor. Nothing about wealth or property; similarly, nothing about being eligible to vote in a state. Nothing about legitimacy of birth (so Alexander Hamilton was eligible). Nothing about education. And here’s the kicker: nothing about race, ethnicity, or gender. The presidency from its beginning in the writing of the 1787 Constitution was not limited to male whites. And there’s more: The Constitution does not exclude slaves or indentured servants.
Now of course, as a practical matter, blacks and women would not be elected by electors of the Electoral College to the presidency or vice-presidency, or elected by state legislators to the Senate, or elected by the people to the House. But that was also true of Catholics and Jews, even though the Constitution specifically barred a religious test. And it is also true that there may have been state constitutional or statutory prohibitions on the candidacy of blacks or women.
But when the American voters were ready to nominate or elect a woman to the presidency – such as Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005; 1972 election), Barbara Jordan (1936-1996), 1976 election), Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011), 1984 election, or Hillary Clinton, 2008 election, or a black, such as Colin Powell (winner of New Hampshire Republican primary for vice-president, 1996 election, or Barack Obama, 2008 election), we didn’t need to amend the federal Constitution. Such candidates were eligible all along.
Qualifications Under Canon Law for Pope
Since Benedict XVI has resigned and his successor will be elected soon, let’s take a look at the minimum qualifications for election as pope. The pundits discuss viable candidates, called papabili. They’re all cardinals. But distinguish who the electors are from who the candidates are. The electors are cardinals under the age of 80 and there are 118 of them, depending on when the conclave starts. Turning to the candidates, of course the most likely ones are the cardinals themselves, even the ones too old to vote! Since Urban VI was elected in 1378, all popes have come from the “pool” of cardinals.
As we know from John Paul II’s election and Benedict’s resignation, however, a centuries-long history does not create any kind of rule. Thus, when John Paul II was elected in 1978, he was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI in 1522. And when Benedict resigned this month, he was the first to have done so since at least Gregory XII in 1415. So, who are the eligible candidates under church (canon) law?
Surprise! Every baptized male over the age of seven! Notably, married men (including married men with children) are not excluded. Of course, if a layman or non-bishop is elected, he would be required by canon law to be consecrated a bishop since, after all, the pope is “the bishop of Rome.” By this broad language on eligibility, the Holy Spirit is “not quenched” as St. Paul wrote. (1 Thess. 5:19)
Spero columnist James M. Thunder is a Washington DC attorney.
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