Yes, Ted Cruz is Eligible to Be President Even Though Canadian-Born

There's simply no question that a person born abroad to a US citizen is a 'natural-born Citizen.'

Rumors that freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential bid have generated not only appropriate scorn and derision but also questions about whether the Calgary-born Cruz is even eligible to run. The Atlantic’s David Graham quashes that one:

Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada, while his parents were living there. His father is now an American citizen, but was not at the time; his mother, however, was born in the United States.

Helpfully, the Congressional Research Service gathered all of the information relevant to Cruz’s case a few years ago, at the height (nadir?) of Obama birtherism. In short, the Constitution says that the president must be a natural-born citizen. “The weight of scholarly legal and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born Citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including any child born ‘in’ the United States, the children of United States citizens born abroad, and those born abroad of one citizen parents who has met U.S. residency requirements,” the CRS’s Jack Maskell wrote. So in short: Cruz is a citizen; Cruz is not naturalized; therefore Cruz is a natural-born citizen, and in any case his mother is a citizen. You can read the CRS memo at bottom; here’s a much longer and more detailed 2011 version.

The second of these is a pretty fascinating read. There’s really not a lot of case law here, since the ‘natural-born’ requirement only applies to the president and vice president, but there’s simply no question that a person born abroad to a US citizen meets the standard. That goes double, incidentally, if the foreign country they were born in is Hawaii.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. stonetools says:

    Where is the mother’s long form birth certificate? I’m not sure about letting some mongrel Canadian-Cuban hybrid run for the Presidency!! I want to Know Nothing of this furriner!!


  2. Moosebreath says:

    “also questions about whether the Calgary-born Cruz is even eligible to run.”

    I doubt any number of Democrats in excess of rounding error will actually believe Cruz is ineligible to run. On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the Republicans who were so adamant about Obama’s inelgibility will be silent on this.

    “That goes double, incidentally, if the foreign country they were born in is Hawaii”


  3. PJ says:

    The real father of Ted Cruz is FIDEL CASTRO!!!!!!!!!!

    He was actually born in Havana and then flown to Canada with his socialist loving mother!!!!!!

    The birth certificate IS A LIE!!!!!

  4. PD Shaw says:

    No, the term “natural born citizen” is completely problematic since it was not a pre-existing legal term, like much of the Constitution. The best guess at what the phrase was intended to address was a concern that the new Constitution would provide the means for a royalist faction to elect a German monarch to serve effectively as President-for-life. The limitation then was meant to limit the Presidency to Americans and not give Congress the ability to qualify someone by legislation.

    Yet, the most common means employed to determine who is a “natural born citizen” is to look at the first naturalization law passed by Congress (1790), which states that children born abroad to U.S. citizens are “natural born citizens” and need not be naturalized. This follows from the idea that when in doubt the near contemporaneous interpretation given the Constitution by the Founders should control.

    Yet this violates two generally accepted conventions. One is that unless the Constitution states otherwise, statutes are inferior and subject to Constitutional restraints. In a Constitutional system, statutes don’t define Constitutional terms. The other is that this interpretation violates our best sense of what evil the “natural born citizen” requirement was intended to cure, i.e. prevent Congress from determining qualifications for President.

  5. All I know is that John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and Donald Trump was born in Jamaica.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    There’s a well established legal principle that makes it clear Cruz is eligible for the presidency although Obama’s eligibility is questionable. IOKIYAR.

  7. Caj says:


    Typical response from the ill informed Obama haters! No need to say anymore!!

  8. michael reynolds says:


    I think you may have failed to notice that Cruz has white skin. Therefore he’s an American. Foreigners not eligible to serve as president can be easily identified by their lack of whiteness.

  9. That Other Mike says:

    @PD Shaw: Except that natural-born subject as a formulation predates the Constitution by centuries – it was a part of the common law of England. A famous example though is in Blackstone’s Commentaries:

    The first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England

    Blackstone was hugely influential at the time the Constitution was written; furthermore, the terms subject and citizen were used interchangeably for decades after the Constitution’s adoption in naturalization statutes.

    Natural-born has always meant a citizen at birth, and this was further strengthened by the 14th Amendment; Congress may not now diminish the basic group of people (those born in the US) by statute, but it can expand the group of people it encompasses simply through its plenary power over citizenship laws.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw: @That Other Mike: Yes, the second CRS link lays that case out briefly in the executive summary and in excrutiating detail inside. The term had a pretty common understanding. Essentially, if you are a citizen at birth, you’re a natural-born citizen. And Cruz, like John McCain, George Romney, and other serious candidates of years gone by born outside the country to US citizen parents, were therefore natural-born citizens and eligible.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    My views are basically from this Yale Law Journal article from 1988: The Natural-Born Citizen Clause and Presidential Eligibility: An Approach for Resolving Two Hundred Years of Uncertainty

    Blackstone was no doubt influential, but not on this issue. Issues of the appropriate immigration rules were part of the dispute between the colonists and Parliament. The colonies formed their own immigration rules, not premised on British law or Blackstone, nor necessarily similar to one another.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    My contention is not that there are reasonable constructions of the language, but they exist within a framework that is far too ambiguous for our democratic process. This uncertainty would deter candidates from throwing their hat in the ring without certainty that their efforts would not be sidetracked by timely and expensive court challenges. This applies to the residency requirement as well. Was Eisenhower qualified? If there was a place a candidate could go and get a definitive opinion on his/her qualifications within a few weeks long before the campaign starts, I might feel differently.

    I would prefer the limitation to removed by Constitutional Amendment. My next preferance would be for the SCOTUS to take one of these cases in order to rule that this is a political question that the courts are ill-suited to decide, both in terms of the varying scenarios like to develop in a shrinking world, but also within the timeframe required of deliberative elections.

  13. Anderson says:

    The best guess at what the phrase was intended to address

    I like the suggestion that the purpose of the clause was to prevent Alexander Hamilton from becoming president.

  14. Barry says:

    @stonetools: ” mongrel Canadian-Cuban hybrid”

    You know that the average of ‘Canadian’ and ‘Cuban’ would be ‘American’, right?
    Simple math.

  15. al-Ameda says:

    His whole background is faked, and not supported by long-form documentation. I’m sure that Orly Taitz and her mainstream Republican supporters, as well as Donald Trump, will be looking into this. My guess is that 1% of Democrats believe that Cruz is a Canadian Marxist – which is far less than the 50% of Republicans who still bieve that Obama is from Kenya, Indonesia, or worse yet – Hawaii (they don’t know that Hawaii is a state.)

  16. Surreal American says:

    @James Joyner:

    I was born in the U.S. My dad is a naturalized citizen and my mom is a permanent resident of the U.S. Question: Am I a “natural born citizen”?

  17. Which is why when I’ve said I believe Obama was born in Kenya, I have also said that is irrelevant to his qualification for the presidency since there is no question his mother was a natural born US citizen.

  18. Surreal American says:

    @Let’s Be Free:

    Which is why when I’ve said I believe Obama was born in Kenya

    Hmm. Documentation certifying that Obama was born in the U.S. or your dumbass assertions. Which should I believe?

  19. Craigo says:

    @Surreal American: Yes, as you were born in the US, and therefore a citizen for birth and did not require naturalization. If you do not require naturalization, you are a natural-born citizen.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Surreal American: My understanding is that, if you’re born on US soil, the only way you’re not a citizen is if your parents were here as foreign diplomats–and thus not subject to US jurisdiction–or if you’ve taken formal steps to renounce your citizenship.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for linking to the CRS report – I never knew it existed!

    I must admit, I’ve always been sympathetic to birtherism (I’m sorry!), precisely because the “natural-bown citizen” phrase is such a vague phrase, with the true meaning entrenched in hundreds of years of common law and case law. Yet whenever I brought up those concerns online, I was called racist or told I watch Fox News too much. It’s an incredible relief to know that someone took those concerns seriously, and investigated them in good faith. My stance is similar to PD Shaw; I wouldn’t mind if the NBC requirement were struck from the Constitution, but until then it’s important to obey it faithfully.

    I’m going to download the memo and the full report to my Kindle. It’ll be an interesting thing to read.

    P.S.: I believe 100% that the President was born in Hawaii. I’m not THAT kind of birther.

  22. That Other Mike says:

    @PD Shaw: I think you’re obfuscating somewhat here. Blackstone is just one example among hundreds. The number of people classed as constitutional scholars who don’t subscribe to natural-born as directly equivalent to birthright citizenship is so small as to be a rounding error; the only decision I know of by the Supreme Court which has ever repudiated the concept is Dred Scott v. Sandford, which was comprehensively overruled by the 14th Amendment and subsequent decisions, such as Wong Kim Ark.

  23. DARoberts says:

    @PD Shaw:

    the most common means employed to determine who is a “natural born citizen” is to look at the first naturalization law passed by Congress (1790), which states that children born abroad to U.S. citizens are “natural born citizens” and need not be naturalized.

    From the 1790 naturalization act:

    “And the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond Sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born Citizens: Provided, that the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States…”

    Ted Cruz does not meet the Natural-born Citizen requirement.

  24. James Joyner says:

    @DARoberts: Not so. Ted Cruz’ Wikipedia bio states, “His father was a Cuban immigrant to the United States during the Cuban Revolution. . . . Cruz’s family returned to the U.S. when he was four years old.” Even if we take the 1790 definition, written during a time when women had no legal standing, it’s pretty clear that Cruz Sr. had been a resident of the United States prior to Ted’s birth.