Only one week into his tenure as a Texas senator, Ted Cruz, 42, is already drawing presidential murmurs. While it’s certainly too early to tell what sort of leader Cruz will be, in practical terms, Politico raised a larger issue on Monday evening. Based on the fact that the politician was born to an American mother and a Cuban father in Canada, the outlet wondered if he is eligible to run for the American presidency.
The question at the center of the discussion is hypothetical at this juncture, as there’s no indication that the new senator is interested in the role. According to some, the fact that he was born outside of the U.S. could cause constitutional complications and uncertainties that would potentially cloud a candidacy. However, there is no precedent to examine that answers the viability question definitively. Politico explains:
While there’s no legal precedent for Cruz’s situation, most constitutional scholars surveyed by POLITICO believe the 42-year-old tea party sensation would be OK. But there’s just enough gray area to stoke controversy, as Cruz learned during his campaign for Senate last year.
The U.S. Constitution states: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President…”
Based on the constitutional provision, the obvious question that follows is: What, exactly, is a “natural born citizen”? According to experts cited by Politico, answering this curiosity is somewhat difficult. In fact, Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona who once argued that Sen. John McCain was not eligible to run for the presidency, admitted, “no one knows what a natural born citizen is.”
While some note uncertainty on the matter, others stake the claim that, despite being born in Canada, Cruz would automatically inherit his mother’s American citizenship at the time of his birth.
“Ted is a U.S. citizen by birth, having been born in Calgary to an American-born mother,” explained Sean Rushton, the senator’s spokesman.
Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, agreed with this assessment, noting that the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to children born inside the U.S.; as for those born outside of the country, he argues that a congressional law grants them citizenship (pending their parents are citizens).
Even Chin, who argued against McCain’s eligibility, believes that Cruz is likely a viable candidate, should he choose to pursue the presidency. The professor’s past reaction to McCain was based on the fact that the Arizona senator was born one year before a 1937 law was enacted to deal with citizenship of individuals serving abroad (thus, he argued McCain wasn’t covered under the law).
Cruz and McCain aren’t the first politicians to encounter scrutiny surrounding their citizenship. Politico highlights some of the others who have also faced an uphill battle in this area (besides the obvious birtherism that has plagued Barack Obama):
In 1968, Republican George Romney, who was born in Mexico, was ensnared in a controversy about his own qualifications to run for president. Several Democratic congressmen at the time expressed “serious doubts” about the former Michigan governor’s eligibility. Scholars said a New York Law Journal article pointing out that Romney’s parents were U.S. citizens finally put critics’ claims to rest.
Even Barry Goldwater faced scrutiny over the issue because he was born in Arizona when it was still a territory.
None of these situations have ever stopped a candidate from running, and it’s unlikely that Cruz would be the first.
Courts have shown no interest in broaching the issue, leaving it to be debated in the political sphere.
Despite this analysis, it’s important to remember that Cruz is a newly-minted congressman. There’s no indication that he’s interested or seeking the presidency and such prospects, even if he does show an inclination, are years away. Still, on a grander scale, the discussion about natural born citizenship is pertinent — and one that seems continually unresolved.