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Mark McCown: A noble and tricky thing

Dear Lawyer Mark: I made a bet that I hope you can help me win. My friends and me were talking the other day about certain people here that think they come from royalty. I remember from history class that Americans cannot be named a prince or duke, and bet them that there cannot legally be any in the U.S. The problem is, while I remember that, I can’t find it anywhere. Is there a ban on Americans being royalty? — Prince Charming

Dear Prince Charming: Well, you are actually guilty of a misconception that many have. The ban that you are thinking of is contained in the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 10 prohibits the states from granting any titles of nobility to anyone, whether they are citizens or not. Section 9 of the same article has the same prohibition for the federal government. So, an American citizen cannot be named a prince, duke, or any other noble title by our own government.

However, the Constitution does not ban American citizens from receiving titles of nobility from other countries, and a child could actually be born into both. As you probably remember, a person who is born as the child of an American citizen typically is automatically a citizen (I say typically, because it is determined not by the Constitution, but rather by the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which can be changed by Congress). So, an American citizen could marry a person of nobility, and have a child who was both a citizen due to one parent, and also a titled noble from the other parent.

If you think that is far-fetched, remember that in 1936, King Edward VIII of England married an American woman. While Edward abdicated to avoid crisis in England, he still was titled as the Duke of Windsor, and his American wife became the Duchess of Windsor.

They had no children, but if they would have, the child would have also been both a titled noble, and an American citizen, like her mother.

Incidentally, there is one other ban on nobility in the Constitution: Article 1, Section 9 prohibits any person of noble title from holding any public office, unless Congress consents.

Additionally, there is a proposed Constitutional amendment currently pending that would revoke the citizenship of any person who accepts a foreign title of nobility. An amendment needs the approval of 38 state legislatures to become ratified, and this proposed amendment has already been approved by 12. It has also been pending since 1810, and was last voted on in 1814.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638.