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The Constitutional Requirements for the Office of the U.S. Presidency: The Case of President Obama and Senator Ted Cruz

By Priye S. Torulagha


As the primary elections of the two major political parties in the U.S gradually wind down and the nation begins to prepare for the upcoming presidential general election in November 2016, it is necessary to reflect on the manner in which two major presidential candidates have been treated regarding their qualification to run for the Office of the President of the United States.  When Sen. Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2007, he was treated very harshly by his opponents, especially, those in the Republican Party who alleged that he was not a “natural born” American citizen, therefore, was not qualified to seek the high office of the country.  On the other hand, when Sen. Ted Cruz, a Canadian-born American citizen declared his candidacy in 2015, the issue of whether he was a “natural born” American citizen was barely raised by the Americans who were so concerned about President Obama not being a “natural born” American citizen.

The contradiction in behavior raises fundamental questions about American political values.  How is it possible for some U.S. citizens to read the American Constitution in such a manner that they ended up with very contradictory interpretations of the qualification for the presidency?  In other words, what prompted the Americans who were so concerned about President Obama’s nationality to turn around and completely ignore the nationality of Mr. Ted Cruz? Why was the need to meet the “natural born” qualification so critical in President Obama’s case and not so in Sen. Cruz’s case, even though it is a known fact that Sen. Cruz was born in Canada?  Perhaps, it might be necessary to quote the section of the U.S. Constitution that stipulates the requirements necessary to run and occupy the Office of the President of the United States.

The United States Constitution clearly stipulates the basic qualifications or prerequisites or requirements that are necessary for any American to run for the Office of the Presidency.  The Constitution states in Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 5 of The Executive Article that “No Person except a natural born Citizen or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

This means that any American citizen who wishes to run for the Presidency must have been born in the United States or any territory that is considered to be part or extension of the U.S.  The individual must be at least thirty five years in age and must have lived continuously in the United States as a resident for fourteen years.  Any individual who fails to meet any one of the three conditions cannot run for the great office.  Due to this requirement, many naturalized Americans who want to run for the presidency cannot do so.  A particularly notable individual who wanted to run for the office but could not do so was the former governor of California, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He could not seek the presidency because he was born in Austria before moving to the U.S. to become a naturalized citizen.


When Sen. Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the presidency, the constitutional requirement for the office became a very hot issue.  Many Americans, particularly those associated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party argued that President Obama could not run for the office because he was not a “natural born” citizen of the United States.  Some said that he was born in Kenya and not in the U.S.

The debate got so heated up to the point that Mr. Donald Trump, the current front runner in the Republican presidential primaries became the lightening rod in arousing opposition to Obama’s presidential candidacy.  It got to a point in which Mr. Trump and others requested that Mr. Obama should release his birth certificate publicly for American people to see.  The argument continued throughout his first term in office as the President of the United State.  It was reignited during his reelection bid as Mr. Trump hammered the point repeatedly.  Even after the State of Hawaii released information about Mr. Obama’s birthplace, many doubters still did not believe that he was born in the country.

The U.S. media too joined the fray by constantly covering the news about Mr. Obama’s birth place.  Certain individuals were invited to speak about the matter and inflamed passions about Mr. Obama.  The issue only died down after his birth certificate was publicly displayed and he won a second term.  The economic growth that immediately followed the disastrous recession of 2008-2009 also helped to divert public attention from the “natural birth” issue.

Like President Obama who decided to run for the presidency while serving as a senator from the State of Illinois, Mr. Ted Cruz too decided to contest the presidential election while serving as a senator from Texas.    Of the sixteen or eighteen candidates who initially vied for the Republican presidential ticket, Mr. Cruz is in second place as a major party contender.  Actually, he is second to the front-runner, Mr. Trump and hopes to tactically clinch the Republican nomination if establishment Republicans support him against Mr. Trump.

The most interesting thing about Mr. Cruz presidential bid is that he was born in Canada and not in the United States.  Like President Obama who has a “natural born” American mother and a Kenyan father, Mr. Cruz has an American “natural born” mother and a Cuban father.  However, unlike President Obama who was born in the United States, it is an obvious fact that Sen. Cruz was born in Canada.  There is no dispute about his birthplace.  Thus, he is a naturalized American citizen and not a “natural born” citizen.

However, the wonderment about Mr. Cruz presidential candidacy is that the same Americans who insisted upon the “natural born” constitutional prerequisite for Mr. Obama are not raising the issue against him, despite the fact that he is a naturalized citizen.   Furthermore, the Republican Party which spearheaded the issue against Mr. Obama even allowed Mr. Cruz to declare and actually participate in the Republican primaries without even hinting of the possibility that he might not qualify for the president’s office. Some influential Republicans actually prefer him to be the Republican presidential candidate rather than Mr. Trump who is the front-runner among the Republican candidates.

The quietness over the “natural born” issue in the case of Sen. Cruz puzzles many people in the world.  Does it mean that the “natural born” requirement of the U.S. Constitution is no longer important or could be easily waved to make it possible for some individuals to run for the U.S. presidency?  If that is the case, what is the criteria for determining when the constitutional requirement can be waved or downplayed?  Since Sen. Cruz has been allowed by the Republican Party to run for the presidency, in the future, will the party allow other Americans naturalized Americans to run for the position based upon their parents  “natural born” status?  In other words, it could be said that the Republicans have set a precedent for waving the constitutional qualification.  So, when other naturalized Americans in the future decide to run for the high office, the “natural born” requirement might have to be waved to ensure their equal political right to join the race for the presidential position.


Another puzzling byproduct of the great silence over Sen. Cruz’ status is that Mr. Trump who spearheaded the campaign to stop Mr. Obama over his “natural born” status is not using the issue to campaign against Mr. Cruz in a vigorous manner.  Although, once in a while, he raises the issue to inform the public but he is not acting the way he did while he was condemning Mr. Obama for not being a ‘Natural born” citizen.  One would have expected Mr. Trump to attack Sen. Cruz candidacy by repeatedly saying that Mr. Cruz should drop out of the primary race because he is not an American “natural born” Citizen.

Similarly, the American media too are not interested in focusing on Mr. Cruz qualification for the presidency as they did when Mr. Obama was running for the office.  So, is the American media informing the world that some people are excusable from the requirement of “natural born” status while others are not excusable? What criteria are they using in determining who meets the requirement and who does not?

Even the Democratic Party which stands to gain the most in causing disarray in the Republican Party does not say anything about the matter.  The party allowed the Republican Party to assault the citizenship of Mr. Obama but remained very quiet about Mr. Cruz’s status.  Are the Democrats remaining quiet over the matter as a strategic tactic to actually encourage the Republicans to nominate Mr. Cruz as their presidential candidate come November 2016?

Lastly, American constitutional scholars, like most American journalists, have pretty much avoided analyzing the Constitution and rendering their views on the “natural born” matter in the case of Sen. Cruz.  Again, why did so many of them appear on television to interpret and explain the Constitution when Mr. Obama was running for the presidency and have remained very quiet over Mr. Cruz’s status? Perhaps, the most logical reason that would have qualified Mr. Cruz to run for the presidency of the United States of America is if his mother was working for the United States government when he was born.

Could it be said that in the United States, there is a different standard for different people.  This means that constitutional requirements can be turned on and turned off, depending on the status of the individuals seeking the presidential office. Otherwise, it boggles the mind that President Obama spent almost four years trying to demonstrate his ‘natural born” status while a candidate that was actually born outside the United States is able to run for the Office of the President without American citizens loudly raising the constitutional issue.

Indeed, the differential treatment given to President Obama and Sen. Cruz over the “natural born” requirement says so much about U.S. political culture. The world is astounded about the contradictory political behavior and needs explanation.

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