AUSTIN -- Rumored to be a possible presidential hopeful for Republicans in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) faces one pestering question that won't seem to go away.
"You were born in Canada, are you even eligible to be president of the United States?" reporter Jonathan Karl asked Cruz during a July interview for ABC's "This Week." Cruz replied, "My mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She is a U.S. citizen, so I am a U.S. citizen by birth."
Over the weekend, Cruz released his Canadian birth certificate to the Dallas Morning News. It confirms Cruz was a U.S. citizen at birth by virtue of his mother, who is listed as being born in Wilmington, Delaware. Under Canadian citizenship laws, Cruz is also apparently a Canadian citizen by virtue of his birth in Calgary, Alberta.
"What I stated yesterday is if that is indeed correct, the question was raised, would I renounce my Canadian citizenship? And I said, 'Sure of course I would,'" Cruz told media Tuesday in Houston. "Why? Because I'm an American citizen by birth, and as a U.S. Senator, I believe it makes sense for me to be only an American."
The U.S. Constitution requires a president to be at least 35 years of age, a permanent resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years, and "natural born citizen" of the United States. The Constitution doesn't define what a natural born citizen is, and the term's interpretation has been left largely unsettled in court.
"If Cruz actually gets the support to be a viable candidate, a court would have to be insane to say that there is a problem," said Dr. Sanford Levinson, a prominent constitutional scholar and law professor at the University of Texas.
Under the 14th Amendment, anyone born on American soil is a citizen by birth. The law also extends citizenship to those born to at least one American parent. In order for Cruz to have been born a citizen by statute, Cruz's mother would have had to have lived in the U.S. for at least five years after the age of 14.
Levinson notes that similar questions were raised regarding the eligibility of 2008 Republican president candidate and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who was born in the Panama Canal Zone just months before a law was passed conferring citizenship on children born within the U.S. territory to American parents. Congress passed a resolution in 2008 declaring McCain eligible to become president.
"It would have been unimaginable had a court said after McCain got the nomination, or even in the runup to the nomination, 'I'm sorry. It doesn't matter that one of our great political parties wants you to be president, or that contrary to fact a majority of the American people might want you to be president because of this legal intricacy,'" said Levinson. "The same thing with Ted Cruz."
"The conversation's been more of chickens coming home to roost for the right wing, the tea party, the birthers," suggested Levinson, referring to those who continue to insist President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible to serve as president.
The conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked by the public release of both forms of his Hawaiian birth certificate, as well as birth announcements published in local newspapers. Ironically, even if Obama had been born in Kenya, it likely wouldn't have made a difference from a constitutional standpoint.
"It didn't matter," explained Levinson, noting that Obama's mother Ann Dunham was born in Wichita, Kansas. "He would have been a U.S. citizen the same way Ted Cruz is a U.S. citizen, had he been born anywhere in the world."
Levinson argues the current requirements to become statutory citizens at birth, as well as the general age and citizenship requirements for certain higher offices in the United States merit a review. He points to those such as former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-California) and Jennifer Granholm (D-Michigan), both of whom have been mentioned as potential presidential candidates, had they not been ineligible because they became American citizens well after they were born and moved to the country.
"The constitutional bar is really stupid, and I think indefensible in the 21st century," said Levinson, who belives the current requirements create a set of "second class" American citizens. "It's not true that every child, even if a citizen of the United States, can dream of growing up to be president, because we have this stupid clause of the constitution that says, 'Not you, buddy."
Furthermore, Levinson says if Cruz were found to be ineligible due to a technicality, such as the length of time his mother spent in the U.S. before moving to Canada, he hopes Democrats stand behind his eligibility and consider statutory changes to broaden the current legal requirements.
"If the people want to elect you president, that's their choice," suggests Levinson. "I wouldn't vote for Ted Cruz if hell froze over, but that's not because of where he was born or where his mother lived."