Donald Trump’s attacks on Ted Cruz’s citizenship have intensified in recent weeks. Now, the question of whether the Canadian-born Texas senator is eligible to become president could come before a federal court.
A federal lawsuit filed by a Houston attorney on Thursday seeks to determine whether Cruz’s birthplace disqualifies him from holding the Oval Office. At stake is a question of what it means to be a “natural born citizen,” and whether Cruz fits the description. The Constitution says that any U.S. president must be a natural-born citizen, but it doesn’t define the term.
Where does that leave Cruz? The Republican presidential contender was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Cruz contends that he’s eligible to run for president, and plenty of respected legal experts agree. Trump, however, has raised questions on the campaign trail. “There are other attorneys that feel, and very, very fine constitutional attorneys, that feel that because he was not born on the land, he cannot run for office,” Trump said during Thursday’s Republican debate.
For now, the question is likely to go unanswered in court. Houston attorney Newton Schwartz filed the lawsuit, according to the Houston Chronicle. The attorney probably doesn’t have standing to sue. To bring a federal lawsuit, a plaintiff essentially has to prove harm. It’s possible that a rival campaign might have that kind of standing. But a Houston attorney? Probably not. As a result, the court will likely toss out the complaint without wading into the arguments at stake.
“I don’t take it very seriously. I don’t see standing,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. “There’s a theoretical argument that another candidate or another campaign might have standing, but here I don’t see the argument.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any impact. The mere existence of the lawsuit could lend an air of credibility to Trump’s claims in the minds of Republican primary voters. It could also prompt copycat lawsuits. That, in turn, could fuel voter suspicion that Cruz may not be fit to run for president. A Reuters poll recently showed that a quarter of Republicans believe that Cruz should be disqualified from the 2016 race since he was born in Canada. That number could rise if legal challenges start to stack up.
Cruz defended himself against Trump’s charges at the debate Thursday, suggesting that Trump launched the attack because the real-estate mogul is slipping in the polls. “The facts and the law here are really quite clear,” Cruz said. “Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.”
Trump suggested that Cruz could put any lingering concerns to rest by taking the question of White House eligibility to court himself. “So you should go out, get a declaratory judgement, let the courts decide,” Trump told Cruz at the debate.
It is unclear whether Cruz could do such a thing, Adler said, noting that attempting it would be risky. “I think it would really be foolish for the Cruz campaign to try,” he said.