Sen. Ted Cruz’s address at the annual South Carolina Republican Party dinner Friday helped feed growing speculation the freshman Texas senator sparked this week that he’s eyeing a run for the White House in 2016 — and raised yet another round of questions about his eligibility so serve in the Oval Office.
Mr. Cruz was born in Canada to an American-born mother and Cuban-born father, and was a citizen from birth — but that Canadian factor puts him in the company of other past candidates who have had their eligibility questioned because of the Constitution’s requirement that a president be “a natural born citizen.”
Michael C. Dorf, constitutional law professor at Cornell University, said Mr. Cruz likely does not have any constitutional barriers standing in front of him because the term “natural born citizen” has not been defined.
“This is all sort of framed on the fact that we do not have any case law and it is quite likely that the courts would stay out of it even if someone brought a challenge,” Mr. Dorf said. “The place that this would be solved ultimately would be the Electoral College.”
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) also weighed in on the issue in 2011 with an opinion that sounds favorable to a Cruz candidacy.
“The weight of more recent federal cases, as well as the majority of scholarship on the subject, also indicate that the term ‘natural born citizen’ would most likely include, as well as native-born citizens, those born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents, at least one of whom had previously resided in the United States, or those born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent who, prior to the birth, had met the requirements of federal law for physical presence in the country,” the non-partisan research agency wrote.
Still, it remains an issue of speculation on Internet message boards, and history shows that the issue could dog the freshman Texas lawmaker.
The citizenship issue continues to haunt President Obama — thanks to the “birther” movement as well as New York real estate mogul Donald Trump and Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, who argued that Mr. Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii — released by the White House in April 2011 — was fake.
Sen. John McCain also faced questions during his 2008 bid for president. The Arizona Republican was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. Michigan Gov. George Romney faced similar questions during his 1968 president run. Mr. Romney was born in Mexico to American citizens living in a Mormon church colony.
“You do have the sort of acceptance by the political system of John McCain presidential run, and of the George Romney presidential run,” Cornell’s Mr. Dorf said. “So those suggest a more permissive approach to natural born citizenship.”
The Constitution’s Article II, Section 1, reads: “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.”
Mr. Cruz was born in Calgary in 1970 to an American mother, though his father wasn’t an American citizen at the time. The family moved to the U.S. when he was four years old.
The political world is already handicapping a potential Cruz candidacy and on Friday all eyes will be on South Carolina, where he and Vice President Joe Biden, a likely Democratic candidate, will be headlining their party’s respective annual dinners around the same time in Columbia.
The dueling appearances come a little over a year after the South Carolina primary, where voters put a dent in their reputation for picking winners when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won the state’s GOP primary only to see his campaign sputter out in the ensuing contests.
The Palmetto State could prove to be fertile political ground for Mr. Cruz, who bills himself as a defender of the Constitution, touts his pro-life credentials and is closely tied to former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who vacated his seat this year to take over the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.
A Princeton debate champion, Harvard Law School graduate, and former clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Mr. Cruz has earned headlines for the combative style he has brought to Capitol Hill since the 2012 election.
He opposed the nominations of Sen. John Kerry to be the next secretary of State and former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon. And he pushed back against Hurricane Sandy emergency relief funding for the Northeast, the Republican-controlled House’s plan to waive the nation’s borrowing limit for nearly four months and post-Newtown efforts to tighten the nation’s gun control laws.