U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
(CBS NEWS) -- Could an American born in Puerto Rico serve as president of the
United States? One Supreme Court justice on Thursday said he doesn't see why
"I know many possible people from Puerto Rico who
could perhaps who could be elected" president, Supreme Court Justice
Stephen Breyer said when asked about the possibility during a
hearing of a subpanel of the House Appropriations Committee.
and Justice Anthony Kennedy made a rare visit to Capitol Hill today to
testify before the Financial Services and General Government
Appropriations Subcommittee about their annual budget. The question of
whether a Puerto Rican could serve as president came at the opening of
the hearing from Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the
subcommittee. Serrano, who represents part of the Bronx in New York, was
born in Puerto Rico himself.
Kennedy declined to
speculate on the question, but Breyer shared his thoughts, stressing
that they didn't represent any kind of official court opinion.
"Lawyers always ask two questions: first, why?" Breyer said. "Isn't Puerto Rico an important part of this country? Answer: yes."
The justice continued, "Second question: why not? When I ask why not, I don't hear any answer."
Serrano joked, "My exploratory committee is coming together in the next half hour."
congressman also remarked that Breyer was making headline news in the
U.S. territory, where a majority of residents last year voted in favor of becoming the 51st U.S. state.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and they can participate in the major
political parties' nominating processes. They cannot, however, vote in
Serrano noted that when Sen.
John McCain, R-Ariz., was running for president, the Senate passed a
non-binding resolution to clarify that the senator could serve as
president even though he was born in the Panama Canal zone. The U.S.
exercised sovereignty over the Panama Canal when McCain was born on a
U.S. military base there in 1936.
dictates that only "natural born" citizens may run for president.
Kennedy said the authors of the Constitution wanted to keep European
royalty out of the White House.
"That's probably the reason," he said. "I wasn't there at the time."