Marco Rubio

Are Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz ‘natural born citizens?’ Broward judge to hear case

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz AP

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A case challenging the eligibility of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to run for president will be heard in Broward County court at 11 a.m. Friday.

The crux of the case: the meaning of the phrase “natural born citizen” and how it applies to the two Republican senators. Rubio was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban immigrants who became citizens a few years later. Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban-born father and American mother, who moved to Texas when Cruz was four.

“These two candidates are naturalized U.S. citizens, or at the very least, simply fail to comply with the common law Supreme Court established definition of natural born citizen,” wrote Michael Voeltz in his court complaint.

Voeltz, a Broward Republican and inventory manager at a car dealership who is representing himself, wants the candidates’ names withdrawn from the Florida March 15 primary ballot.

The U.S. Constitution states that a presidential candidate must be a “natural born citizen.” Voeltz argues that the definition of “natural born citizens” refers to those born in the U.S. whose parents are U.S. citizens.

But most legal experts say that the phrase means someone who is a citizen at birth. Also, the Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by Congress three years after the Constitution was written, stated that children born abroad to U.S. citizens were natural born citizens.

“It is undisputed that Senator Rubio was born in the United States to immigrant parents,” states Rubio’s motion to dismiss the complaint, written by lawyer Gabriela Prado of Virginia. “Under the United States Constitution, Senator Rubio is a natural born citizen who is eligible to serve as president of the United States.”

Cruz is represented by David Di Pietro, a well-known Republican lawyer in Broward.

“With respect to the phrase ‘natural born citizen’ the first Congress and British law at the time of the founding are in agreement — a person who is a citizen at birth due to the citizenship of the parent is a natural born citizen,” Di Pietro wrote in his motion to dismiss.

Similar questions arose for previous presidential candidates. In 2012, a judge tossed a similar case Voeltz filed challenging the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Sen. John McCain faced questions because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed in the U.S. military there. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution — co-sponsored by then Senators Obama and Hillary Clinton — stating McCain was a natural born citizen.

But the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on these citizenship eligibility matters, which means the issue isn’t entirely settled.

Catholic University law professor Sarah Duggin, an expert on natural born citizenship and constitutional law, read Voeltz’s complaint at the Miami Herald’s request. She said that she doubts the case will go forward on its merits.

“The principal problems with these kinds of lawsuits pertain to standing and ripeness — whether the plaintiff is an appropriate party to bring the lawsuit and whether the issue is ripe for judicial review,” she said. “The standing issue exists because a voter has only a ‘generalized grievance’ under federal standing doctrine, and that’s usually not enough to permit a lawsuit to go forward.”

Lawyers for the candidates argue that Voeltz hasn’t proved that he is harmed by Cruz and Rubio appearing on the ballot, so he has no standing to proceed with his case.

The case will be heard by Broward Judge John Bowman, a registered Democrat since 1979 first elected to the bench in 2002.

The Republican Party of Florida, also named as a co-defendant, disputes the allegations.

“The RPOF is certain that all of the candidates who will appear on Florida's presidential primary ballot are eligible for the presidency,” party spokesman Wadi Gaitan told the Herald.

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