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Not even six months into his first term, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is weighing whether to run for president in 2016.
Cruz, whose ambitions National Review reported Wednesday, wasted no time chiseling a niche for himself as a champion of conservatism: opposing gun-control legislation and expressing skepticism toward immigration reform.
There is, though, one question that nags at his possible goal of reaching the White House: Does Cruz, who was born in Canada, meet the constitutional muster of being a natural-born citizen? Cruz and a number of legal scholars say yes, but it’s an answer that begs for explanation.
The Constitution has only a few requirements for aspiring executives. Presidents must be at least 35 years old, have lived in the U.S. for 14 years, and be a “natural born Citizen.” Cruz is 42. Check. He’s lived in Texas for more than 14 years. Check. But the definition of what it means to be a natural-born citizen has never been decided in the courts and the Constitution doesn’t explain exactly what it means by "natural born," according to Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor and citizenship-law expert.
“These questions get decided in the court of popular opinion,” said Spiro, who added he thinks Cruz counts as a natural-born citizen. “Why deprive ourselves of having the opportunity to choose somebody on the basis of that kind of formality?”
Cruz argues he fits the requirement because his mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth. “I’m a citizen by birth,” Cruz said in an interview with Sean Hannity in March.
He was born in Calgary, Alberta, on Dec. 22, 1970, to a Cuban-born father, Rafael, and a Delaware-born mother, Eleanor. Both of his parents were in Canada working in the oil industry. They and Cruz moved to Texas, where his parents went to college, when the future senator was 4 years old. Federal law says that people born outside the U.S. to a parent or parents who are citizens and who have lived in the country are considered citizens at birth.
Some news organizations have taken a whack at answering this question as well. The Texas Tribune, for instance, said confidently in August 2012 that Cruz could be considered a natural-born citizen because his mother was a U.S. citizen. “Bottom line: Despite being born in Canada, Ted Cruz can be considered a natural-born U.S. citizen,” the Tribune wrote.
Still, his Canadian birth means he’s also technically a Canadian citizen, according to Naomi Alboim, a professor who studies citizenship at Queen’s University in Ontario. But even if Cruz were to openly claim his Canadian citizenship along with his U.S. citizenship, that wouldn’t legally prevent him from becoming president. There’s no statutory bar to the presidency for dual citizens.
“Is it a wrinkle?” Spiro asked. “I think the answer is no.”