A symbol of law and justice in an empty courtroom. (iStock)

There's a tendency to shy away from describing any aspect of American democracy as flat-out broken, unhinged or disfigured. Instead, violent political rally-goers are often described as "passionate." Bigotry is reframed as anxiety, and the questions about the eligibility of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to serve in the White House? Well, that's just an intriguing legal curio. The Fix has expressed its own version of the latter.

But to reach such a conclusion, observers really have to rather selectively pick at the facts and events surrounding the question of Cruz's eligibility and the language used. Then, one must ignore the demographics of politicians who come under an odd kind of public citizenship scrutiny — and who doesn't?

Of course, at least some people involved in the question-Cruz's-eligibility parade may be genuinely intrigued by what they consider a lingering legal question about the meaning of a "natural-born citizen." Some have long-standing political beefs with Cruz. For them, this is just a new round in the fight. And some of these folks have serious concerns about Cruz's now well-documented indifference toward the important art of Senate compromise.

Still, there also is ample evidence that many people trying to put Cruz's qualifications for the Oval Office on trial fall into a category called none of the above. Cruz is now a named party in at least three lawsuits challenging his eligibility and the subject of a lot of unofficial chatter.

[Conservative media's war over Ted Cruz 'birtherism']

Let's dissect this, shall we?

Lawsuit No. 1

Back in December, a Florida man filed suit in a state court against Cruz, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the state's Republican Party, claiming that neither Cruz nor Rubio are "natural-born citizens." As such, the suit also claims that neither is eligible to seek the White House. A Florida official and the Republican Party are seeking to perpetrate a fraud that diminishes the power of Florida's voters or engaged in assisting in this process, according to the suit.

It was filed by Michael Voeltz, on his own behalf. In the suit, Voeltz describes himself as a registered Broward County Republican voter. Enough said.

We aren't going to even bother detailing the Rubio-centered portion of Voeltz's argument. Rubio was born in the United States to two immigrant parents. So, Voeltz's intellectual route to the conclusion that Rubio is not a natural-born citizen is beyond convoluted. We will say this: In January, Rubio's campaign filed a request to dismiss the suit. And it's not really hard to see why, given that whole birthright-citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment. Moving on.

(You can read the full text of the suit and all of its claims here. As you do so, you will also see the core of Voeltz's argument against Canadian-born Cruz.)


An old tractor sporting a Canadian national flag is seen parked in the rural township of Oro-Medonte, Ontario. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

According to the suit, Cruz — who was born in 1970 — is either a naturalized U.S. citizen or does not meet the “common-law standard” of “natural-born citizen.” The reason: Until 1934, U.S. citizen women married to non-U.S. citizen men who gave birth abroad could not confer citizenship on their children. Only U.S. citizen men could do that. Also, the suit notes that Cruz renounced his Canadian citizenship (which can be held jointly with American citizenship) in 2014, therefore — it argues — maintaining an official “entanglement” with a foreign country well into his adult life, making Cruz ineligible for the presidency. Finally, the suit claims that children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents must seek to have their citizenship conferred and therefore are not “natural-born.”

These are the facts: The rule regarding citizenship and which parent can confer it changed nearly 40 years before Cruz was born, to comport with, you know, constitutional requirements for equal treatment under the law. Rules and legal advisories from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department have said clearly that children born abroad to U.S. citizens are not formally naturalized and do not need to be; they are natural-born. But, it is also true that parents of these children must navigate a bit of a process and complete a form for the child to claim their U.S. citizenship.

Lawsuit No. 2

A view of the Houston skyline at dusk. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

On Jan. 14, a Texas lawyer, Newton B. Schwartz Sr., filed suit in a Houston-based federal court also claiming that Cruz is not a natural-born citizen. Schwartz, 85, told the Wall Street Journal that he voted for Republicans such as Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower but is supporting Bernie Sanders this time. (Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont and a democratic socialist who is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for the White House.) You can read the full text of Schwartz's suit here.

Here's the essence of Schwartz's claims: The meaning of the term “natural-born citizen” has never been defined by a court. Cruz has made unspecified statements questioning President Obama’s citizenship. Schwartz is requesting confirmation/proof of Cruz’s mother’s U.S. citizenship and that she never renounced it.

There are several problems here. First, the Supreme Court did take up a very closely related set of questions in a 1971 case. (That would be the year after Cruz was born.) In that case -- Rogers v. Bellei -- involved a man born in Italy to an Italian father and a U.S. citizen mother and deemed a natural-born U.S. citizen. The man obtained a passport as a child, traveled to the United States many times and even registered with Selective Service when required (making himself available in the event of a U.S. military draft). But the man never met a requirement that those with dual citizenship live inside the United States for at least five years by the age of 28. American officials warned Aldo Bellei about this requirement several times, including the last time he renewed his U.S. passport. He didn't meet it. His citizenship was revoked. He sued the then Nixon administration's secretary of state, William P. Rogers. A lower court ruled in Bellei's favor. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him. Bellei's days as a U.S. citizen were no more.

Now, the Cruz campaign made the case to The Fix that Rogers v. Bellei defined the term "natural-born citizen." To this, we have to say, not quite. But it's pretty easy to see that, at least by the standard identified by the Supreme Court in Rogers v. Bellei, Cruz has been a natural-born citizen since birth and has more than met the requirements to sustain that in ways that Bellei did not.

Cruz, after all, got his schooling in the United States, was the valedictorian of his high school class, is a well-known former member of Harvard University Law School's debate team, and has the transcripts to prove that he did quite well in classes at Princeton University and Harvard, too. He worked for the Supreme Court in his 20s and argued several cases in his 30s. Finally, the Cruz campaign says that Cruz did not renounce his dual Canadian citizenship simply because he wanted to run for president. They say he decided that American citizenship -- natural-born citizenship, which he has had from his first breath in Canada -- was the only one he wanted.


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a town hall meeting in Whitefield, N.H., on Jan. 18. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

We have no clue at all how someone could determine the truth of Cruz's feelings about his Canadian citizenship. But to disprove all the rest of that stuff establishing his presence in and ties to the United States, his mother's citizenship and so forth, that would require somebody to make some very Obama-birther-type claims. Somehow, the documentary evidence of the last 40-plus years of Cruz's life would have to have been falsified. We are talking about everything from transcripts and stories in local newspapers to Supreme Court records here.

Are you sensing the implausibility? Does it sound at all familiar?

Lawsuit No. 3

On Jan. 22, a former Utah lawyer with a penchant for unusual litigationWalter L. Wagner, filed a federal suit in that state challenging Cruz's eligibility. You can read the text of the suit itself here. Here is the core of Wagner's claim: In 1970, Cruz was born in Canada and lived there until he was 4 years old; his parents, one a U.S. citizen and the other a Cuban citizen and refugee, were seeking Canadian citizenship at the time of Cruz's birth; and lastly, one or more member of the Cruz family "proclaimed" the household to be Canadian citizens in dealings with government agents, and both of Cruz's parents were listed on Canadian voter rolls.

This suit seems to make another set of disprovable claims. So we will limit ourselves to what the Cruz campaign has said in response to each. Contrary to the claims, Cruz's mother, then Eleanor Cruz, never actually sought Canadian citizenship, the campaign told The Fix. Rafael Cruz did and later became a U.S. citizen. However, Eleanor Cruz and Rafael Cruz were listed on a voter canvasing document -- not an official Canadian registered voter roll -- according to the campaign. The Cruz family lived in Canada temporarily due to Eleanor Darragh Cruz Wilson's work. Ted Cruz has and has always held an American passport. He has lived in the United States most of his life. Finally, Cruz is a natural-born U.S. citizen because he was born to one -- his mother -- in 1970, campaign staff said.

Proving any of the above to be false would require records searches, perhaps a private investigation funded by a wealthy birther, tracking people down who had official contact with the Cruz family in Canada and much more than a belief that said proof exists. It would have to be produced.

Might any of this sound at all or vaguely familiar?

So that's the litigation. Or rather, that's the litigation that exists right now. What about the cultural import of this whole eligibility question? Well, as we have implied up above, that's the part that has got the touch of Donald Trump all over it.

The Trump factor

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., on Aug. 19, 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Now that Trump is on the campaign trail, he shrugs off direct birther questions about Obama and sometimes tries the same with questions about Cruz. But Trump also dispatches tweets full of feigned concern about Cruz's eligibility and the prospect of a court case. He has said publicly that he's dubious about Cruz's evangelical leanings because Cruz's father hails from Cuba. He's pretty much seeded the idea of Cruz the Outsider, Cruz the Disqualified, Cruz the Other as much and as often as possible since Cruz started rising in the polls in Iowa.

That both men -- Rubio and Cruz -- facing any type of legal eligibility challenge have ancestral connections to Cuba and Cruz's mother's gender has been raised as yet another potential disqualifier for Cruz really should not be ignored here, either.

You will note that no one has filed anything challenging Trump's right to run based on the fact that American-born Trump is the son of a Scottish-born mother -- something Cruz brought up for argument's sake at the last debate but he hasn't actually argued in favor of. And you will also note that the only people talking about the Croatian and Czech immigrants who were Ohio Gov. John Kasich's grandparents is Kasich himself.

Back in 2012, there was hardly an audible noise about Mitt Romney's Mexican-born U.S. citizen father (born in 1907 to U.S. citizens living in Mexico.) And both Obama and Hillary Clinton sponsored legislation to utterly quash any hint of question about Panama-born John McCain's eligibility in 2008.

Since others are reluctant to say this or perhaps don't agree, we will.

It is more than a little coinkydink that those seeking the White House who are most firmly established in the American pantheon of important citizens -- white men -- don't face the same kind of citizenship and eligibility related questioning that have confronted Obama and now Cruz and Rubio.

Regardless of one's politics, or one's personal feelings about Cruz, that's the kind of assault on American legal and social equality that really ought to raise many an American eyebrow.