With all of the non-stop coverage of the 2016 presidential election, have you noticed as of late that Donald Trump has not said a peep about Ted Cruz not being eligible for the presidency? Earlier this year, Trump questioned whether Cruz was a natural born citizen because he was born in Calgary, Canada (to a U.S. citizen mother). Trump asserted this very question would be caught up in the court system for years. Much editorial space was spent on major newspaper and TV networks discussing this issue. Many legal scholars even agreed that Trump may have a case against Cruz.
This weekend, it occurred to me, this issue has faded from the public eye. The major media outlets stopped talking about it (maybe because Trump has moved on to other things.) But, it remains an important and largely unresolved question. So, I decided to look through some of the filings in the lawsuits filed against Cruz, and discovered an opinion from a Pennsylvania Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini that gives an absolute smack down to all of these Ted Cruz birther claims. Judge Pellegrini in his 22 page memorandum opinion found that Ted Cruz was a natural born citizen thereby ruling that Cruz’s name can appear on the Republican primary ballot in Pennsylvania on April 26, 2016. Why this particular opinion piqued my interest is that it is the first I have seen anywhere that actually tackles the Constitutional questions surrounding Cruz’s eligibility. For example, cases in Utah and Florida, were recently dismissed on procedural technicalities (like standing). What is even more shocking — the opinion was issued last week — and I couldn’t find any major network or newspaper covering it. (WSJ had a short blog post, and a few local newspapers covered it in PA). You would think that on the heels of such extensive coverage of the issue earlier this year, that the media would jump all over the first major opinion to address these important Constitutional questions that Trump brought up during the campaign. I guess, that’s wishful thinking, but I will go through the opinion, anyway, as I think it is illustrative of what will be found if/when this question is appealed to an even higher court, perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court.
The heart of the question stems from Article II, Section I, of the U.S. Constitution which requires that a President be a “natural born” citizen. The challenge was filed by Carmon Elliot, a registered Republican in Pennsylvania. Elliot claimed Cruz should not be allowed to appear on the ballot because he is not a “natural born citizen.”
Firstly, Cruz’s attorneys argued that the Court should not address this issue at all because it is a “political question” that should not be addressed by the Judiciary. The judge found “no Constitutional provision places such power in Congress to determine Presidential eligibility.” Bottom line (and this is important), the judge found that the courts can move forward with deciding the case.
So how did Judge Pellegrino of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania arrive at his decision that Cruz was eligible?
The judge relies on several pieces of legal scholarship. First, a memo produced in 1968 by Charles Gordon, then the General Counsel of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, which says: “The Framers were well aware of the need to assure full citizenship rights to the children born to American citizens in foreign countries.” He also points out a 2011 Congressional Research Service Memo entitled the “Qualification for President and the ‘Natural Born’ Citizenship Eligibility Requirement.” The document concludes:
“The weight of legal and historical authority indicated that the term ‘natural born’ citizen would mean a person, who is entitled to U.S. citizenship ‘by birth’ or ‘at birth’ either by being born ‘in’ the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents.”
Then the judge spends four pages quoting from the recent work of Paul Clement & Neal Katyal in the Harvard Law Review, in which the two Constitutional scholars (from different sides of the political aisle) conclude that “as Congress has recognized since the Founding, a person born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent is generally a U.S. citizen from birth with no need for naturalization. And the phrase ‘natural born citizen’ in the Constitution encompasses all such citizens from birth.”
In his conclusion, the Judge states:
Having extensively reviewed all articles cited in the opinion, as well as many others, this Court holds, consistent with the common law precedent and statutory history, that a “natural born citizen” included any person who is a United States citizen from birth.Accordingly, because he was a citizen of the United States from birth, Ted Cruz is eligible to serve as President of the United States..
The judge’s decision is ripe for a higher court review, but it is significant nonetheless. As election law expert Dan Tokaji points out in the Election Law Blog this case could ultimately be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“A state court ruling would be helpful, but only a Supreme Court ruling could dispel the uncertainty surrounding its meaning. The good news is that review of a state court decision on Cruz’s eligibility could be sought in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to review federal law questions is broader than that of lower federal courts,” he wrote.
So perhaps, one thing Trump said is correct that this question could end being caught up in the courts for some time. The petitioner, Mr. Elliot, already said he plans to appeal the Judge’s decision.
Here is his full decision for your review: