What happens if, after a few years, a sitting President was found in a surprise revelation, and through no fault of their own, to have been utterly ineligible for that office because of both where they were actually born and who their parents actually were.

(Since the scenario requires marvelous circumstances, let's suppose a faultless "separated at birth" scenario, with added super-coincidences of similar marvels having occurred to each of the sitting President's parents, so that neither mother, father, nor child is actually the natural born citizen they've always innocently believed themselves to be.)

To simplify the question, suppose this President is honest, law abiding, and not dismayed about whatever happens.

  • 1
    This is an attempt at a legitimate version of a "Birther" question, sans implications of villainy or crime.
    – agc
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 6:51
  • 5
    Australia faces a similar scenario. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 8:31
  • 2
    It's the same question, worded a different way: what if, after inauguration, information surfaces that reveal the president shouldn't have been eligible for the office which he now holds. The answer is also the same: resignation or impeachment.
    – BradC
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:55
  • 1
    @ohwilleke, This Q. is basically the scenario devised by Obama's "birther" adversaries, it's something like what they presumably should have preferred -- but without racism, (and denial thereof...), whack-a-mole conspiracy theories, paper chasing, and factual controversy. Since there's already specific Q.s about all that, it seems odd to dispense with a cleaner and more general abstraction. Supposing that there was "no meaningful guidance or authority", it does not seem impossible that fact-based and reasonably certain inferential answers or overviews might be posted.
    – agc
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 1:54

5 Answers 5


If this actually happens, it will trigger a constitutional crisis. This Slate article speculates that the only likely actions would be resignation or impeachment.

The President will likely voluntarily resign if he is "honest, law abiding, and not dismayed". Apart from that, only Congress can impeach and remove a President from office.

The Supreme Court is not able to initiate impeachment proceedings, as Article I Section 3 of the US Constitution states that the Senate has the "sole power to try all impeachments":

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.

(emphasis mine)

And the Supreme Court decided in Nixon v. United States that the federal judiciary cannot review impeachment proceedings, and thereby cannot remove a President from office.

Significantly, the framers of the Constitution explicitly considered, but turned down, a role for the Supreme Court in the initiation of presidential impeachment proceedings.

Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-holtzman/the-supreme-court-and-pre_b_10595736.html

As for the actions the President had taken, it will be left to the Supreme Court to decide on the course of action, since it would be unprecedented.

It's worth noting, someone who is a US citizen at birth but was not born in the US is likely eligible to serve as President.

Related question: How is it that Ted Cruz can run for the U.S. presidency seeing as he was born in Calgary?

This question came up when Ted Cruz ran for President in 2016 as he was born in Canada. The 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain is also born outside of the US, in Panama.

Since the Constitution only states that a President needs to be a "natural born citizen", "most legal experts contend it means someone is a citizen from birth".

If that’s the definition, then Cruz is a natural born citizen by being born to an American mother and having her citizenship at birth. The Congressional Research Service, the agency tasked with providing authoritative research to all members of Congress, published a report after the 2008 election supporting the thinking that "natural born" citizenship means citizenship held "at birth."

(emphasis mine)

Source: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/mar/26/ted-cruz-born-canada-eligible-run-president-update/

  • 1
    Because legal consensus is that "natural-born citizen" probably means "citizen from birth," it is unlikely that this could happen unless the president were discovered not to be a US citizen at all. Such a person would never have applied for naturalization before discovering that he or she was not a citizen, of course, and the circumstances under which someone automatically becomes a citizen after birth are fairly uncommon.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 12:59
  • 1
    @phoog That makes sense too, I suppose this question’s based on the inaccurate assumption that a non-US born citizen is ineligible to be POTUS.
    – Panda
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 13:03
  • 2
    To clarify... In the US the House initiates impeachment proceedings, and after being presented with articles of impeachment the Senate conducts the trial.
    – BobT
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 13:21
  • 1
    Re "likely eligible": I've modified the Q to eliminate even the likely. (Jack Maskell's CRS survey is long-winded but interesting, yet somehow seems a bit one sided, alluding to its own position as "enlightened", while neglecting to trace the history of the more cautious school of thought that framer Gerry represented, (i.e. Gerry preferred natives with a 20 year residency).)
    – agc
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:20
  • 2
    Good answer, the only part I might take issue with is describing this scenario as a "constitutional crisis". Sure, it would be a political mess of epic proportions, but the constitution does provide a remedy here: resignation or impeachment. I reserve the phrase for situations where the constitution is silent, like what would happen if a sitting president (and his armed security staff) refuses to leave office at the end of their term? That's a constitutional crisis.
    – BradC
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 16:41

The president would continue serving, unless they chose to resign, or were impeached by Congress.

There is no mechanism to "automatically" remove a sitting president if an otherwise disqualifying factor like this were discovered after they took office.

Section 1 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution has the relevant text:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Taking those in reverse order:

  • Resignation - The president might be pressured to resign.
  • Death - not at issue here.
  • Removal is slightly more complicated, let's examine this in more detail.

The obvious external mechanism for removal of a sitting US President is impeachment, a Congressional process covered by other excellent answers here. There are no strict limitations on what a president can be impeached for, although I find it hard to believe they would be impeached in a situation like this.

The only other proposed mechanism for removal is via Section 4 of the 25th Amendment when the Vice President along with other administration officials declare to Congress that the President is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office". Seems unlikely as well.

I think the most likely outcome would be pressure upon the president to resign.

  • 1
    Please clarify as to whether the ineligible person who seemed to be the sitting President would ever have really been a President at all. That is, how does one "resign" from a position if it's never actually held. Perhaps this is like a marriage annulment as compared to a divorce.
    – agc
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:44
  • 3
    @agc Of course they would have been. Even if he turns out to be a lizard person from outer space, you'd still probably need to walk (very rapidly) through the steps of removal via the 25th Amendment to make it official.
    – BradC
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:52
  • @agc: If Congress certified the Electoral College ballots in the January following the President's election, then it's a valid election as far as the Constitution is concerned. That is the body responsible for ensuring that the ballots are valid (and in particular, that the person named on the ballots is eligible for the office). It would be most inappropriate for, say, the Supreme Court to invalidate an election years after the fact. Many people thought it was inappropriate when they adjudicated the 2000 election just over a month after the election, and before the January sitting.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 17:37

Article II - U.S. Constitution Section 4.

The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Presidential Impeachment: The Legal Standard and Procedure discusses various interpretations of this, but they are all some sort of "offense". There is no provision for removal in case of inadvertent ineligibility discovered after the official takes office.

Some election laws do have such provisions. One could argue that the lack of such provisions in the US Constitution was the intent of the Framers.

  • Re "One could argue...": so it's not a bug, it's a feature. "As luck would have it the POTUS turns out to be from Krypton, but he's doing a great job, not like that jerk Luthor."
    – agc
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 2:30

Since the Constitution does not provide any remedy for this scenario, (impeachment is only a device to remove a President for misdeeds -- which are stipulated not to have happened here), the only opinion which would carry weight here would be that of the SCOTUS. So SCOTUS would have to issue an opinion to remedy the immediate situation as well as a recommendation for a venue for a future legislative clarification.

  • Of course somebody would first need to put forth a related trial or lawsuit pertaining to some specific but disputed presidential constitutional issue.
    – agc
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 15:33
  • 1
    @agc sure, but almost any voter could claim to have standing, so a number of groups would file suits immediately.
    – grovkin
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:56
  • 1
    @agc As soon as the next executive action is implemented any effected party would have standing. Also anyone effected by previous actions of the administration might sue for relief also under because the guy was never actually president.
    – Readin
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 15:03
  • 1
    Precedent on standing suggests that "any voter" would not have standing.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 5:29

The result of any conflict regarding a country leader's "Eligibility for Office", depends on the decision made by the Legislative body(Parliament, Congress, etc.)

If the Legislative body votes "No Confidence"/Impeachment, then the country goes for a re-election.(like South Korea)

  • 6
    If the sitting president were to leave office after having been found to be ineligible, the vice president would become president. There would be no new election.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 12:44
  • @phoog, Please post that comment as an answer.
    – agc
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:54
  • 1
    The OP specifies the United States...
    – DJohnM
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .