Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Natural Born Citizen Requirement, Part 1: Is Senator Cruz Eligible To Be President?

The Issue and Why It Matters 

The issue concerning Senator Cruz’s eligibility for the Presidency is whether he is a “natural born citizen” despite being born in Canada to a mother who was a U.S. citizen and a father who was a Cuban citizen. As a result, questions about his eligibility have surfaced repeatedly during this election season, no doubt in some cases for political reasons. 

I thought at first that this was a fairly simple topic, but once I started looking at it more closely I realized there was much more to it than I thought. Accordingly, I will be devoting two posts to this topic. Part 1 will introduce the qualifications for President, some relevant history, and the importance of addressing this issue. In Part 2 I will share my thoughts about what I think the term natural born citizen means and its impact on Senator Cruz.

Article II of the Constitution sets forth the qualifications to be President:
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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been Fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. 
These are the only requirements that must be met to take the oath of office for an individual elected by the Electoral College as President: the individual must be a natural born citizen, 35 years old, and 14 years a resident within the United States. (The Framers carved out an exception to the natural born citizen requirement for those who were citizens at the adoption of the Constitution, but that exception no longer applies.)  

The question of constitutional qualification is much more than a political issue or a technicality -- it goes to a fundamental requirement of the Constitution that has been unchanged for over 200 years. In fact, because these qualifications are deemed so important, they have been extended during our history to individuals who could, in certain situations, become the President or Acting President.

The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, addressed several concerns with the Electoral College, especially the result of the election of 1796 when bitter rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became President and Vice President because, as originally drafted, the Constitution made the runner up for President the Vice President. The Constitution did not expressly address the Vice President's qualifications, although implicitly they were the Presidential qualifications. To make things clear, the following sentence was added at the very end of the Amendment: “But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” This applied the three qualifications for the President to the Vice President.

The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, moved the commencement of the Presidential, Vice Presidential, and Congressional terms to January and added provisions addressing the lack of a President-Elect. This Amendment expressly states that no one can be President who is not qualified under the Constitution. The words of the Amendment make it clear that qualifications were a very serious concern:

. . . if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
These words assume that there may be cases in which someone who has been elected by the Electoral College could still lack constitutionally mandated qualifications. They also highlight the unique and important nature of the natural born citizen clause. An individual could be just under 35 and just short of the 14 years of residency and yet soon qualify with the passage of time. But time does not work for the natural born citizen clause: one either is or is not natural born. You do not age into it.

Congress in 1947 enacted a law spelling out the line of succession for who becomes the Acting President if, among other reasons, there is a failure to qualify as President by the person elected President. Once again, the qualifications of Article II come to the fore, because this law expressly states that government officers may succeed to this position if and only if “such officers . . . are eligible to the office of President under the Constitution.” 

This brief historical tour demonstrates that the qualifications set forth in Article II -- including the natural born citizen requirement -- are not some anachronistic list that we should treat lightly or ignore. Quite to the contrary, these words have garnered repeated attention and been addressed on several occasions since they were first written in 1787. To those who think that these requirements really are not needed, I say this: You may be right, but by what authority may we ignore express Constitutional mandates? In my view we can no more dismiss these qualifications than any other parts of the Constitution that remain in force. Shall we start by dispensing with the First Amendment? The Fourth? Of course not. To ask the question is to answer it. Change comes through amendment, not lack of fidelity to the "supreme Law of the Land" -- which the Constitution is under Article VI.

The question of Senator Cruz’s eligibility transcends politics, and if we are to honor the words of the Constitution we need to confront this issue honestly and openly. Those who believe, as I do, that we are bound by the Constitution unless and until it is amended must see that its terms are followed and enforced. We have operated that way for over 200 years, and I see no reason to stop now.

To be continued . . . 


  1. In my opinion, the Senator opposites just want to take this situation out of the point because the man have "Cruz" on his name. Definitely a Latin name on it.

    In the other hand, if the constitution indicates the President legibility, we can't do anything (by now). But if the man have the mind, the talent, the preparation and force to run this Nation, then what's the problem.

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