Years ago, Donald Trump forced Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate by elevating questions of his birthplace to front-page news. Now he’s turned his guns on leading challenger Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), suggesting that his birth in Canada makes him ineligible for the presidency. In an interview, Trump said that Cruz’s birth was a “very precarious” problem: “Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem.”
Trump supporter Ann Coulter agrees:
NYT: Cruz was born outside the U.S. to 1 American parent: “Under the Constitution this makes him a ‘natural born citizen.’” Absolutely false
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 6, 2016
This is clearly a desperate play by Trump to rip back support from Cruz. Back in September, when Cruz was but a glimmer in Trump’s polling data, Trump dismissed birther questions on ABC News: “I hear it was checked out by every attorney and every which way and I understand Ted is in fine shape.” That was months after declaring Cruz’s birthplace “a stumbling block.”
So Trump flip-flops on this issue, too.
But for those wondering, he’s likely wrong on the legal side.
Here are the facts.
The provision of the Constitution in question is Article II, Section 1, Clause 5:
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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Cruz’s mother was born in Delaware, his father in Cuba. Cruz was born in 1970 in Calgary, Canada.
So, what does it mean to be a “natural born citizen”?
The goal of the “natural born citizen” clause was to prevent “all chances for ambitious foreigners, who might otherwise be intriguing for the office,” according to Justice Story. So, what did the clause mean practically?
Under British law preceding American law, “natural born” meant both jus soli and jus sanguinis. Jus soli means that you are a citizen if born within the territory of the country. Jus sanguinis means that you are a citizen if one of your parents is a citizen. In its 1790 naturalization statute, the United States re-enshrined this principle, stating, “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.” But whether the Constitution embraces the same language remains a semi-open question upon which the Supreme Court has not openly ruled.
The only way Cruz’s eligibility would arise is if Trump actually sued to keep Cruz off the ballot, or if a state did so. Neither seems likely.
Final word to Cruz:
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 5, 2016