Right to Run: The Debate Over Natural-Born Citizenship

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The argument over interpretation of the Constitution is age-old. Recently, social issues dealing with interpretation, such as marriage equality and abortion legality, have come to the forefront of American politics. Candidates in elections of all levels differentiate themselves by how they read the Constitution, but recently the defining document of our nation has taken a different role. It could actually disqualify a candidate.

Toward the beginning of Article Two of the Constitution, it 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 the President” before going on to describe the age restrictions. The latter part of this clause is simple, a few chronological rules that require the President is old enough and has been in America long enough. The first part, though, is controversial. The framers must have had an idea what “natural-born” meant, but they certainly didn’t define it for us.

In the 2008 election, both candidates who made it to the general had their eligibilities challenged due to this clause. John McCain was born on a Navy Base in Panama, and was challenged to present a birth certificate proving he was born in a naval hospital and not a civilian one. Similarly, Barack Obama had eligibility challenges. However, in his case, the challenge was made that he wasn’t even born in Hawaii.

In both of these cases, it was proven that the candidate was born on American soil. As has become a trend in this year, the current presidential election has taken the question of natural-born a bit farther.

Ted Cruz was born in Alberta, Canada to a U.S. citizen and Cuban immigrant. He was therefore born with dual citizenship between the two countries, and renounced his Canadian citizenship two years ago. Donald Trump and others have called into question whether or not this fits the definition of “natural-born.” Though there have been court cases dealing with this definition in the past, the most recent two, Ankeny v. Governor and Strunk vs. N.Y. State Board of Elections, dealt only with citizens who had been born within the borders of the United States to parents who were not necessarily citizens.

The first Ted Cruz eligibility case, which will be heard the Thursday after Super Tuesday, is the first high-profile case dealing with a presidential candidate who was born in a different country. If found ineligible, the case would certainly be challenged in higher courts. Regardless of the outcome, the case certainly places a large question mark on Senator Cruz during a pivotal moment in his campaign. As everything from polls to search sites are declaring that Trump will likely be the nominee for the Republican party, Cruz needs to solidify himself as a contender after winning only three Super Tuesday states to the Manhattan real estate mogul’s seven.

The question has extended further than just Cruz; candidates Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal have also been questioned for eligibility. Though both were born in America, their parents were not citizens at the time of their birth. Rubio, who is, unlike Jindal, still in the race, will also be challenged at some of the hearings set to determine Cruz’s eligibility.

Though Constitutional interpretation is an extremely vital part of American governance and any clarification by courts is useful, the circumstances surrounding these cases is disheartening. In an election that has resorted to insulting and (allegedly) spreading lies, the propagation of ineligibility rumors by candidates just adds to the fire that is the alarmingly manipulative GOP primary. This week, the results from Super Tuesday will dominate the news. Perhaps they will even go so far as to declare a primary winner. The headlines after that will blare the decision made in Cruz court decisions, which could very well (though unlikely) disqualify one of the only two men who seem to be in competition with the front-runner. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere in between those headlines we will learn more about the candidate’s ideas and plans for America. And if we don’t, we’ll certainly be treated to more election drama.

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