Proud to be an American, and maybe a Canadian? That’s the problem that Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) faces in a discussion on whether his origins prohibit or inhibit a run at the White House in 2016. After the “birther” attacks on President Obama , the issue of citizenship has now turned into double-edged sword for political attacks. Cruz is a wake-up call for why the natural-born citizen clause of the Constitution needs to be clarified.
Historically, the precedent for citizenship and presidency was ground in a protection against foreign influence such as European aristocracy. In a globalized and immigrant-molded America, this may seem antiquated. It can also be argued that the natural-born citizen clause is driven by xenophobia, and memories of an early childhood abroad really don’t affect your degree of patriotism. The biggest problem is that the clause still does not have clarified factors for what constitutes eligibility.
Cruz, according to his recently released birth certificate, was born in Calgary, Canada to an American-born mother. This has made many legal scholars on both sides of the northern border speculate about his eligibility. Many Canadian legal scholars and lawyers are of the opinion that Cruz was instantly a Canadian citizen at the time of his birth, and that he would technically be a dual citizen. Meanwhile, members of the Cruz camp report that Cruz never had to go through any naturalization process when he came over to the U.S., and has simply been a U.S. citizen and not a Canadian one his whole life.
Cruz stated, “I’m a citizen by birth. And those are the facts of my birth and I’ll let other people worry about the legal consequences.” This statement may come off arrogant considering Cruz’s political base, the Tea Party, was the rallying force behind the birther attacks against Obama. But let’s look at those legal consequences. The first mention of presidential eligibility comes in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, which 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”.
Additionally, the Fourteenth Amendment reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Notably, the phrase “natural-born citizen” does not appear in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The debate around Cruz’s eligibility, after Obama, is not one that will end without clarification. Factors like location, parental citizenship, and naturalization processes need to be clarified.
Like many aspects of the Constitution, there’s ample room for interpretation and clarification. This is one of those cases. The presidency is still plagued by the constitutional kerfuffle of the “natural-born citizen” clause. Because of that, the media still debates whether you’re American enough to be president. For both sides of the aisle, it’s time to clarify this once and for all.