by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
The Constitution has very few requirements for a person to be President of the United States. The individual must be 35 years old, 14 years a resident within the United States and a “natural born citizen.” Although the meaning of this phrase is debated and was an issue concerning Ted Cruz, there is no doubt that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet all of these requirements.
Fitness to be president, then, is not about constitutional prerequisites. Rather, it is about the criteria that voters use – and should use – in evaluating the candidates. I believe that in assessing the candidates in this or any presidential election, five criteria are most important.
First, what are the candidates’ values, views on the issues and priorities? For many voters, this is answered by whether the candidate is Republican or Democrat. In this election, there is an enormous difference between Clinton and Trump on issues ranging from immigration to tax policy to racial policy to abortion to gun control. If this were the only consideration, it is hard to imagine a person who identifies as liberal voting for Trump or one who identifies as conservative voting for Clinton.
Second, does the candidate have the good judgment and temperament to be president? Crises will happen that require quick decisions. Challenges that cannot be anticipated at the time of the election are inevitable, perhaps a foreign war or an attack on the United States or a recession. Although voters likely strongly disagree over which candidate will exercise better judgment or over who has the temperament better suited to be president, few would disagree as to the importance of these personality traits in choosing a Chief Executive. One benefit to the long campaign season for the presidency is that people get much more chance to get a sense of the judgment and temperament of the candidates.