Yes, Virginia, Ted Cruz is a Natural Born Citizen
Ted Cruz is eligible to be President of the United States (or to serve as Vice President). A person who is naturally a citizen at birth is a natural born citizen. There are even now court cases challenging Cruz’s eligibility. Those lawsuits will all be dismissed quickly, due to a lack of standing but also a lack of standards by which a court can reach a decision.
However, this topic animates many advocates who are passionate about various theories. Many of those theories are appealing, and might have been far preferable plans for those who wrote our Constitution to adopt. But those ideas are not binding within the U.S. Constitution.
There are two kinds of citizens: Those who are citizens by birth (natural born citizens) and those who become citizens through naturalization. Some invent from the word “natural” a third concept of citizen. All other things being equal, we try to give effect to every word in a constitution, law, or contract. But we don’t turn a document on its head for that reason. It is clear that “natural born citizen” means someone who is naturally a citizen at birth, as opposed to the other clearly-identified alternative: naturalization. A third kind of citizen is inferred from supposed hints.
The Constitution requires that a candidate must have resided within the United States for 14 of his 35 years. That is, a president could have lived in another country for up to 21 years by age 35 or 60% of his life in another country. A natural born citizen could be born in Brazil and live there until age 21 before returning to the United States and running for President at the age of 35.
Since the Constitution does not define “natural born citizen,” many look for what ideas might have influenced the Framers of our Constitution. But nothing influenced our Founders more than the Bible. In the Bible, it is crystal clear that a child born to Israelite parents outside of the territory of Israel is an Israelite. When most of Israel was taken away captive into Babylon and Assyria, the children born far away from Israeli soil to Israelite parents were clearly citizens of Israel. The Biblical example and precedent shows that a child born to US citizen parents in a foreign country is a natural born citizen. This surely influenced the writing of the Constitution.
However, a French philosopher, Emmerich de Vattel, wrote an academic treatise The Law of Nations. But not even in France do Vattel’s private writings have legal authority. It is an academic text book.
Vattel advocates many concepts that contradict our Constitution. In section 9, Vattel describes how two countries can have the same “prince.” So under Vattel, the President of the United States, a natural born citizen, could also be the President of Mexico at the same time. Is Vattel consistent with our Constitution in suggesting that the same person can be President of more than one country simultaneously? No! Section 18 proclaims “Since then a nation is obliged to preserve itself, it has a right to every thing necessary for its preservation.” So under Vattel, the government has the right to take from you whatever it needs for its own preservation. Is that consistent with our Constitution? Why is Vattel authoritative on one topic, but not others?
Chapter 5 of Law of Nations is about hereditary monarchs. Is hereditary nobility discussed in Vattel a part of our Constitution? Of course not. Our Constitution forbids grants of nobility. In Section 50 “The sovereign is the soul of the society; if he be not held in veneration by the people, and in perfect security, the public peace, and the happiness and safety of the state, are in continual danger.” Does that sound like our U.S. Constitution? Not at all.
So is Ted Cruz a “natural born citizen” and therefore eligible to be President? Courts will not decide what they call a “political question” – where no standards exist for a court to apply. Because it is absolutely impossible to say that Cruz is not eligible, he is eligible, no matter what pet theory gets someone’s blood boiling.
It is said that the Constitutional Convention “had available to them” a copy of Vattel’s Law of Nations. But the Framers reviewed all the examples of government throughout all of human history. Thomas Jefferson maintained a massive library – so extensive that Jefferson’s library formed the nucleus of the University of Virginia. Jefferson donated most of his library and thereby started one of the greatest universities at the time on the continent.
The Constitutional Convention “had available to them” copies of everything discussing political and governmental theory, and the histories of what had worked and not worked. Of course they read Vattel… and everything else from Aristotle to the Bible to the histories of Rome to Blackstone to Black’s Law Dictionary. It is misleading to say that the Founders were influenced by Vattel, forgetting to mention that the Founders were influenced by a hundred other commentaries, histories, and political treatises as well.
We revere our Constitution as an ingenuous document which is the high-water mark of elf governance in human history. And, yet, it is still full of holes and imperfections. Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists coining a phrase about a “wall of separation of church and state.” That private letter has no role in the U.S. Constitution and has no authority as part of Constitutional law. In the same way, private treatises like Vattel are not binding upon the Constitution.
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