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Wait... Can Canadian-Born Ted Cruz Actually Become the Next US President?

The Texas senator just announced his candidacy to become America's next president, but constitutionally-speaking, is he actually eligible?

by Liz Fields
Mar 23 2015, 9:15pm

Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Ted Cruz — conservative Texas senator, Tea Party darling, and noted Dr. Seuss buff — has officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election, kick-starting the horse race to the oval office and potentially 595 more days of spicy zingers like these. Yet, a resurfacing pebble in Cruz's black ostrich-skin cowboy boot threatens to trip up his campaign before the contest has even begun — namely, the small but vital question of whether the Canadian-born senator is even eligible to become leader of the free world.

Under the US Constitution, a person needs only three qualifications to be president: She or he must have resided in the US for 14 years, be at least 35 years old, and be a "natural born citizen." This last requirement has been the cause for contention for several months in the lead-up to Cruz tweeting his bid announcement minutes after midnight Sunday.

Cruz, 44, was born December 22, 1970, in Calgary to an American mother and Cuban-born father, who became an American citizen in 2005 and is now a considerable conservative figure himself, as well as a suburban pastor in Dallas. The younger Cruz later renounced his Canadian citizenship — granted automatically for babies delivered on Canadian soil — in May 2014, after a Dallas paper reported that unnamed detractors were already pegging him "Canadian Ted," and questioning his ability to run for the US's top office.

Cruz, who later studied law at Harvard and became a clerk for the US chief justice, maintains his US "natural born" status was automatically conferred to him by his American mother, who has met the requisite US residency requirement of 10 years, with five of those being after the age of 14.

"I was born in Calgary. My mother was an American citizen by birth," Cruz said at the annual Conservative Party Action Conference this February. "Under federal law, that made me an American citizen by birth. The Constitution requires that you be a natural born citizen."

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Sarah Duggin, a law professor at Catholic University, told VICE News that while it may not be as clear-cut as all that, many constitutional law experts agree Cruz is eligible.

"The argument is that we don't know what [the founding fathers] meant by that phrase 'natural born' citizenship," Duggin said. "Some argue they meant very specifically that you have to be born physically in the US to be eligible to serve as president, but essentially it could also include someone who was 'naturalized at birth' from being born to an American parent in another place."

"[The latter is] the better argument, and the one most scholars and political academics agree with," she added.

In a paper published this month on the Harvard Law Review Forum, Georgetown Law professor Neal Katyal and former US Solicitor General Paul Clement agreed that, "there is no question that Senator Cruz has been a citizen from birth and is thus a 'natural born citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution."

"Indeed, because his father had also been a resident in the United States, Senator Cruz would have been a "natural born citizen" even under the Naturalization Act of 1790," the authors added.

Yet, without a specific Supreme Court ruling on the matter or an amendment to clarify the Constitution, "there is no open and shut information," Duggin said.

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While even a hint of ambiguity remains, it's likely that challengers will file suits over Cruz's "natural born" status, just as they did with Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Duggin said. McCain, who once called Cruz a "wacko bird" and "crazy," faced similar scrutiny over his birth rights, and was forced to defend his eligibility for the presidency in 2008 after receiving the Republican nomination in March of that year.

The calls against the Republican senator and decorated war veteran at the time managed to unite Washington briefly, with lawmakers from both sides — among them a group of Democrat senators including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — working together to pass a resolution that recognized McCain as a bona fide "natural born citizen," despite his being born on an American military base in the Panama Canal Zone.

Still, that move was likely made for the benefit of the public, rather than having any real legal standing or impact, according to Duggin.

"You can't change the constitution by a statute or resolution," she explained. "[The resolution] was useful and helpful but doesn't resolve anything."

McCain later had lawsuits filed against him that were dismissed for a lack of standing, meaning the people who bought the cases before the court were not the right people to do so, Duggin said.

Obama has also received his fair share of challenges and federal lawsuits filed persistently throughout his two terms in office, based on conspiracy theories he was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and is therefore ineligible to hold the office of president.

Ultimately, it is "very difficult to litigate" cases about the constitutional eligibility of candidates, Duggin said, adding that any similar cases against Cruz will probably be thrown out.

"It's likely courts will say this is not something we want to get involved in, and so far the lower courts have refused to get into the merits," she said.

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Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields