Ted Cruz, the (Canadian) President of the United States

Cruz's presidential candidacy brings with it constitutional questions


On Monday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to announce his 2016 presidential candidacy – over a year and a half before the election.

The likelihood of Cruz winning the Republican nomination is slim, and winning the general election is even less so. He is a polarizing candidate, who is favored only by the far right Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. He is best known for leading the fight to shut down the government in 2013, and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor in a 21-hour filibuster attempt to derail the Affordable Care Act.

New York RepublicanCongressman Peter King, who may be eyeing his own presidential bid, said Cruz had “the marks of a carnival barker, not the leader of the free world.”

But following Cruz’s announcement, a substantial amount of citizens were not only questioning Cruz’s ideology, but his eligibility. Cruz was born in Canada, and until 2013, held dual United States and Canadian citizenship.

His candidacy evokes an interesting question about the Constitution: Can someone born outside of the United States run for President?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is maybe.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states: "No Person except a natural born Citizen... shall be eligible to the Office of President." The only other qualifications are to be at least 35 years old and to have been a U.S. resident for at least 14 years.

The words “natural born” are where some see a problem.

To most, natural born means born within the borders of the United States. You may remember learning in grade school that in order to be president, you need to have been born in the United States. That would seem logical. It would make sense to want the leader of the United States to be born in the country, because (although highly unlikely) we wouldn’t want someone simply coming to the United States, living here for a short time and then deciding to run for president. We would want someone who was born and raised in the United States; someone that would be able to understand the American people and lead effectively.

But being born in the United States hasn’t always been a requirement to run for President. According to an NPR article, the Senate passed a resolution in 2008 that made it clear that John McCain, who was born on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone, was able to run for president. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee (who would go on to lose to Lyndon Johnson), was born in the Arizona Territory before it acquired statehood.

“Natural born” has also been defined in the Naturalization Act of 1790 to mean citizenship that is a result of one parent who had U.S. citizenship at the time of birth, and the other who is a U.S. resident. Senator Cruz claims he is a natural born citizen because his mother was a U.S. citizen and his father was a U.S. resident at the time of his birth in 1970.

An answer is far from clear. Like most things in the Constitution, “natural born” has no definitive definition. While the part of the Naturalization Act that defines natural born may be unconstitutional, we would need a ruling from the Supreme Court that says so. This has not happened because no candidate born outside of U.S. borders has ever won the presidential election.

Getting the Supreme Court to clarify the clause is its own issue. We not only would need a candidate born outside U.S. borders to win an election, but we would also need someone to sue about it. It is unknown if a potential plaintiff would even have legal standing to make this challenge, because the challenger would need to specify how this impacts them directly. This is a seemingly simple task that can be hard to do in Federal Court.

Unfortunately, we will probably not know what exactly natural born means, and will have to abide by the interpretation that was afforded to John McCain and Barry Goldwater. There are numerous reasons why Ted Cruz should not be president. His abuses of the filibuster, his extreme rhetoric, the fact that he is disliked on both sides of the aisle, his vision of abolishing the IRS are just a few – but his Canadian birth isn’t one of them.

William Krause is the political columnist and can be reached at william.krause@ubspectrum.com