The legal and constitutional issues around qualification for the presidency on grounds of US citizenship are “murky and unsettled”, according to the scholar cited by Donald Trump in his recent attacks on Ted Cruz .
Trump has sought to cast doubt on whether the senator, who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, is a “natural-born US citizen”. In doing so he has referred to the work and words of Laurence Tribe , perhaps the most respected liberal law professor in the country.
Tribe taught both Cruz and Barack Obama at Harvard Law School. He also advised Al Gore in the 2000 Florida recount and has advised Obama’s campaign organisation.
“Despite Sen[ator] Cruz’s repeated statements that the legal/constitutional issues around whether he’s a natural-born citizen are clear and settled,” he told the Guardian by email, “the truth is that they’re murky and unsettled.”
Tribe has said previously that the question of Cruz’s eligibility is “unsettled”. On Sunday, Trump cited that position in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, in which he described Tribe “as a constitutional expert, one of the true experts”.
At a rally in Reno, Nevada later on Sunday, the real-estate billionaire, who has said Democrats will sue to stop Cruz running should he win the nomination, described himself as “a PhD in litigation”. Of Cruz’s eligibility, he said: “There is a doubt. We can’t have a doubt.”
Article II, section I, clause V of the US constitution states: “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.”
In his emails to the Guardian, Tribe discussed Cruz’s own approach to constitutional issues, noting that under “the kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the supreme court – an ‘originalist’ who claims to be bound by the historical meaning of the constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption – Cruz wouldn’t be eligible because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and 90s required that someone be born on US soil to be a ‘natural born’ citizen.”
He added: “Even having two US parents wouldn’t suffice for a genuine originalist. And having just an American mother, as Cruz did, would clearly have been insufficient at a time that made patrilineal descent decisive.
“On the other hand, to the kind of judge that I admire and Cruz abhors – a ‘living constitutionalist’ who believes that the constitution’s meaning evolves with the needs of the time – Cruz would ironically be eligible because it no longer makes sense to be bound by so narrow and strict a definition.”
Tribe said: “There is no single, settled answer. And our supreme court has never addressed the issue.”