Ted Cruz is the junior senator from Texas. Elected just last November, he has swiftly garnered national attention, along with fellow Washington neophytes Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as a passionate adherent to, and banner-carrier for, the enduring Tea Party movement in American politics.
As well, thanks to the dreadful precedent established by President Obama that less than a half-term in the Senate qualifies one to seek higher office, Senator Cruz is now regularly included among serious and semi-serious contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Should he heed the call and take the plunge, one very particular fact about the senator’s background will summarily and sharply come to the fore.
Ted Cruz was born in Canada.
His father, Rafael, grew up in Cuba before fleeing to America shortly before the 1959 revolution. His mother, Eleanor, was born and raised in Delaware. In 1970, when Cruz was born, the family happened to be living in Calgary, Alberta, where the couple worked in the oil business.
Should Senator Cruz run for president—in 2016 or any other year—his place of birth will be no small piece of trivia. On the contrary, it could single-handedly derail his campaign before it even begins.
As outlined in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, there are precisely three qualifications to be president of the United States. One must be at least 35 years old; one must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years; and most interestingly, one must be a “natural born citizen.” (The Twelfth Amendment would later clarify that the vice president is bound by this same triad.)
As we were reminded during the nonsensical non-controversy regarding President Obama’s birth certificate, determining precisely what constitutes “natural born citizenship” is where the real fun begins.
Rather surprisingly, this term has yet to be officially defined. The Constitution is of no help at all and the Supreme Court has never been tasked to offer an opinion of its own. Like certain other clauses in our founding documents that we have never fully hammered out, the meaning of a potential president being (or not) a “natural born citizen” has been hitherto backlogged as a “we’ll worry about it when it happens” problem.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a trove of legal hypothesizing on the matter, both by independent thinkers and government officials. In 2011, a report by the Congressional Research Service offered the following:
The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term “natural born” citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship “by birth” or “at birth,” either by being born “in” the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship “at birth.” Such [a] term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an “alien” required to go through the legal process of “naturalization” to become a U.S. citizen.
This fairly all-encompassing definition, if formally adopted, would encompass people such as Senator Cruz, who has argued that his mother’s standing as a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth made him a citizen as well.
It would also include someone like Senator John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed as a naval officer. The Canal Zone was under U.S. control at the time and was therefore technically a part of the United States, although under the above definition, Senator McCain would be “natural born” even if it were not.
And by the way, this definition would also apply to the imaginary Barack Obama who was born in Kenya. Like Cruz, Obama descends from a foreign-born father and an American mother, and would not necessarily need to have been born on U.S. soil to qualify for the White House.
Of course, all of this is merely the tip of the iceberg, as even the broadest interpretations of “natural born citizen” do not extend to immigrants, of whom the United States is becoming ever more composed.
There have been several attempts in recent decades to open the opportunity to run for high office to those who were born abroad and became U.S. citizens later in life, including in 2003 to allow for Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger to occupy the Oval Office.
While all such proposed legislation has failed thus far, one senses it is only a matter of time before the question arises once again. After all, were we to definitively establish that a foreign-born U.S. citizen with one non-citizen parent is good enough to be president, is it really that much of a jump to say the same for those with none?