Donald Trump has a habit of causing controversy, and his remarks on Ted Cruz‘s Presidential eligibility have been no exception. Trump’s accusations have created an unwelcomed distraction for the Texas Senator and, now, several lawsuits across the country are seeking answers.
When Trump first floated the question over Cruz’s eligibility in a January debate, he did so nonchalantly, asking, “Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years? That’d be a big problem.” Classic Donald, stirring the pot and letting it sit. That’s when Cruz’s poll numbers rose and Trump turned up the accusatory rhetoric. Since January 17, Trump has made inflammatory threats of litigation over Cruz’s Canadian-birth and the question of whether Cruz is a “natural born citizen” five times.
It appears for Cruz, lawsuits, or threats of lawsuits, are coming at a faster rate then even Trump can threaten with. Legal scholars and the media have waffled over whether Trump actually has standing to sue Cruz, or seek a declaratory judgment on the question of his eligibility. However, it appears Trump has inspired some citizens and followers to do the dirty work.
Of the litany of filed suits, four in particular pass muster, either by creatively suing a state election board, scaring Cruz’s campaign into a response, or originating from lawyers in pursuit of more than political gamesmanship or political frivolity. Here’s what we know.
- Illinois: Separate lawsuits filed by Lawrence Joyce, an Illinois pharmacist and attorney, and William K. Graham, have forced the Cruz campaign to respond to the idea of an eligibility conundrum through a motion to dismiss. Joyce, a Ben Carson supporter, filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections to remove the former Texas Solicitor General from the state ballot. The Board of Elections dismissed the complaint and Joyce sued. The appeal is expected to be heard Friday in Cook County Circuit by Judge Maureen Ward Kirby.
- New York: Two New Yorkers, Barry Korman and William Gallo, filed a complaint last Wednesday in New York state court in Manhattan alleging that the junior Senator should be disqualified from the New York Republican primary set for April 19. Like in Illinois, Cruz is not a named defendant, rather the suit requests that the New York State Board of Elections have Cruz’s name struck from the ballot.
- Texas: No love for the hometown candidate in The Lone Star State. Newton B. Schwartz, Sr., an 85-year-old Houston lawyer, filed suit back in January seeking a declaratory judgment in the U.S. District Court in Southern District of Texas over Cruz’s Presidential eligibility. Schwartz, an apparent Bernie Sanders supporter, said to The Hill, “However persuasive one finds each side in this debate, the final decision ultimately rests in the hands of five or more of nine Justices on the Supreme Court as mandated by the Constitution.” Clearly, Schwartz spoke prior to the shocking and politically salient death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
- Utah: Walter L. Wagner, a Utah citizen and trained lawyer, also filed a complaint in January in federal district court seeking a declaratory judgment. Wagner’s suit, like the others, rests on the accusation that Cruz is not a “natural born citizen” because Cruz was born in Canada. “I’m a natural-born citizen, and most people are in this country, and it just doesn’t seem proper,” Wagner told BuzzFeed News.
Derek T. Muller, an Associate Professor of Law at the Pepperdine University School of Law, has a complete tally of the pending “natural born citizen” challenges and litigation against Cruz—and Rubio for that matter—on his blog Excess of Democracy.
If nothing else, Trump has effectively shifted the attention away from substance and towards the ‘will he or will he not get kicked off’ reality TV flair of this election cycle, a strategy that suits the billionaire’s style well.