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Eligible for the presidency?

Jan 21, 2016

It’s now clear that the crisis that is Flint is going to go on and on. Yesterday’s release of a large batch of the governor’s e-mails restarted the blame game – and as anyone who knows history could have predicted, brought demands for even more emails.

Think “White House tapes” and Watergate. Meanwhile, President Obama dropped by Detroit yesterday, exactly a year to the day before he leaves office.

He came to see the auto show, but stayed to talk about Flint. He told a union crowd that he’d met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver in the Oval Office Tuesday.

“We are going to have her back and all the people of Flint’s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy,” the president said.

My guess is that historians will treat Obama far better than the analysts do now, but meanwhile, we are in the process of picking a new president.

"We are going to have her back and all the people of Flint's back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy," the president said.

Earlier this week, I was in a Coney Island-style restaurant in one of Detroit downriver suburbs, eating a nutritionally incorrect meal, and I overheard this conversation in the next booth.

One woman said she liked Ted Cruz, but noted that some people were saying he wasn’t really eligible to be President, because he was born in Canada.

Her friend agreed.

“Obama got away with it, but the worst thing would be if Cruz were elected and then disqualified and then we’d get Biden.”

Well, that lady’s knowledge of history and constitutional law are a bit off.

Nobody who is honest and has looked at the facts has any doubt that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. And even if whoever wins the November election couldn’t take office, Vice President Biden is going back to Delaware.

But their conversation did touch on something important:

With the Michigan primary approaching, is there any chance that Senator Ted Cruz is in fact ineligible to be president? Cruz indeed was born in Alberta in 1970 to a mother who was an American citizen and a father who was Cuban. He lived in Canada until he was four, when his family moved to the United States. He is an American citizen. But the Constitution says you have to be a “natural born" citizen to be president.

Few people know this, but in 1790, Washington signed a law the first-ever Congress passed, that says "children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond the sea or out of the limits of the United States shall be considered as natural-born citizens."

  Some think that means “born on the soil of this country.” If so, that would disqualify him. His main rival for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump, is making that argument.

“He’s running with a cloud over his head,” Trump said yesterday.

Well, I asked Robert Sedler, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Wayne State University. He told me there is no question; Cruz is indeed fully eligible to run.

Turns out someone else thought so too: George Washington.

Few people know this, but in 1790, Washington signed a law the first-ever Congress passed, that says “children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond the sea or out of the limits of the United States shall be considered as natural-born citizens.”

That would seem to settle that. By the way, you or I probably couldn’t challenge this in court; we lack standing. Another candidate like Donald Trump could, because he is a party at interest here. But somehow, I don’t think he will.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.