Early in his first term and during the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama was plagued by a controversy surrounding his citizenship. Some conservatives believed that Obama was born in either Kenya or Indonesia on the basis of his unreleased birth certificate. The basis for the controversy was a line in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Section 1 outlines numerous characteristics of the executive branch, including the requirements one must meet to hold the presidency. One of these requirements is that the individual must be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
The definition of “natural-born citizen” is a source of debate among constitutional scholars but one common definition is that one must either be born on U.S. soil (whether a state, territory, federal district or military installation) or be born to two American citizens. Since Obama’s father was a Kenyan citizen, the only way Obama could be a natural-born citizen was if he were born on American soil; hence the claims that he was ineligible to hold the presidency due to his supposed Kenyan or Indonesian birth. Once he released his Hawaiian birth certificate the controversy and conspiracy theories generally faded away. Unfortunately, however, we may be on the verge of yet another presidential birth conspiracy.
Ted Cruz is the junior senator from Texas. A Republican and favorite of many Tea Party conservatives, political speculators believe that Cruz may be positioning himself as a potential Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential campaign. Cruz will certainly have the credentials to be a formidable opponent should he choose to run. While he has only been a senator for nine months, by 2016 he will be a four-year veteran of the Senate (Obama served in the Senate for three years). He served as the solicitor general for the state of Texas from 2003 to 2008, the longest tenure in Texas history. During his solicitor general tenure he argued in front of the United States Supreme Court nine times. He has also worked at the Federal Trade Commission, as associate deputy attorney general for the Justice Department and taught Supreme Court litigation at the University of Texas School of Law. He certainly has a resume which qualifies him for the presidency. The only problem is that Cruz may not be a natural-born citizen.
Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada, in 1970. Cruz’s mother was born and raised in Delaware, making her an American citizen. His father, however, was a Cuban who fled the oppressive regime of Fulgenico Bautisa in 1957. Cruz’s father did not become an American citizen until 2005.
Should Cruz, a qualified candidate by any standard, be barred from running simply due to his murky status as a natural-born citizen? Of course not.
The Constitution was adopted in 1787 and went into effect in 1789. It is an amazing governmental document but an imperfect one; there are 26 amendments which testify to that. An unamended constitution would leave American citizens without a bill of rights, a nonelected senate, the lack of women’s suffrage and the continuation of slavery. The natural-born citizen clause is a product of a bygone age when loyalty to the newly formed country could be questioned. Representatives and senators are not required to be natural-born citizens but rather citizens for at least seven and nine years, respectively. Should the office of the presidency really be held to such an incredibly tighter requirement? There is no reason why Cruz, who only spent four years in Canada growing up, should be barred from presidential consideration.
I used to believe that an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage would be the next constitutional amendment, but it seems that the court system will handle that issue. There are a few other issues which could potentially become an amendment (term limits, abortion, D.C. representation in Congress, etc.) but one replacing the requirement that a president be a natural-born citizen with a certain amount of citizenship years should be the next one. It is a nonpartisan, common sense measure. There is no reason to punish would-be candidates for something they have literally no control over.
Dominic Ciolli is the Discourse editor. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org