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Legal experts: Cruz’s Canadian birth won’t keep him out of the Oval Office

Legal experts: Cruz can run. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Two of the top lawyers for the Obama and Bush administrations agree on this: Sen. Ted Cruz can become president. Legally speaking, anyway.

Paul D. Clement, former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, and Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general for President Obama, penned a piece for the Harvard Law Review tackling the question of what the Constitution means when it says that the president must be at least 35 years old, a U.S. resident for at least 14 years and a “natural born Citizen.”

“All the sources routinely used to interpret the Constitution confirm that the phrase ‘natural born Citizen’ has a specific meaning: namely, someone who was a U.S. citizen at birth with no need to go through a naturalization proceeding at some later time,” they wrote. “And Congress has made equally clear from the time of the framing of the Constitution to the current day that, subject to certain residency requirements on the parents, someone born to a U.S. citizen parent generally becomes a U.S. citizen without regard to whether the birth takes place in Canada, the Canal Zone, or the continental United States.”

Cruz was born in a Canadian hospital to a mother who was a U.S. citizen. But he’s only the latest potential presidential candidate who has had his qualifications questioned. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Former senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) was born in Arizona before it was a state. Gov. George Romney (R-Mich.) was delivered in Mexico to U.S. residents. All were qualified to serve, Katyal and Clement say, basing their legal arguments on British common law and enactments of the First Congress.

The First Congress, they noted, established that children born abroad to U.S. citizens were themselves citizens at birth “and explicitly recognized that such children were ‘natural born citizens.’

“The actions and understandings of the First Congress are particularly persuasive because so many of the Framers of the Constitution were also members of the First Congress,” Katyal and Clement write. “That is particularly true in this instance, as eight of the eleven members of the committee that proposed the natural born eligibility requirement to the Convention served in the First Congress and none objected to a definition of “natural born Citizen” that included persons born abroad to citizen parents.”

The two said they wrote to clear the air.

“We may have different ideas about the ideal candidate in the next presidential election, but we agree on one important principle: voters should be able to choose from all constitutionally eligible candidates, free from spurious arguments that a U.S. citizen at birth is somehow not constitutionally eligible to serve as President simply because he was delivered at a hospital abroad.”