The new birtherism is biting Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate well-liked by many of the people doing the biting.
The old birtherism - the attempt to show President Barack Obama was born somewhere other than the United States, despite the birth certificate and contemporary newspaper listings saying otherwise - was always bunk. The new is different: There is no question about the facts, only about interpretation of law. The catch is, there's no official interpretation of law.
The constitution says that president of the United States must be a "natural born citizen." It does not define the term, and in all the years since the document was written no court - which is where the term would be defined - ever has defined it. My understanding long has been that it means you have to have been born in the land area of the United States, either its states or its territories. That would include people like Barry Goldwater, born in the territory or Arizona, or John McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone, which was at the time a United States possession. A lot of people have defined the term the same way. But there's never been an "official" definition.
Cruz was born in Edmonton, Canada; his mother was a U.S. citizen. That's not in dispute, and never has been. Cruz has released his birth records, and in 2013 formally a Canadian citizenship he long held on account of his birth location. The facts are clear; but how does that match with the "natural born citizen" requirement in the Constitution?
The senator, of course, maintains that he clearly is qualified, and maybe he is. In looking for a senator of what "naturalized" meant in constitutional terms, a court could seize onto the 1790 passed (shortly after the Constitution went into effect) of the Naturalization Act, which meant to clarify that people born outside the United States to citizens were also considered citizens. And Cruz' United States citizenship never has been in serious dispute.
The reality is, no one knows. When rival Donald Trump calls on Cruz to seek a court declaration one way or other on the matter, he's running some clever (and somewhat exploitative) politics, but the counsel may actually be the right thing for Cruz to do. Trump points out that if the legal question isn't resolved now, Democrats surely will make it a much bigger issue in the general election should Cruz become the Republican nominee, and that is correct. Some of Cruz' own backers are signing on to that line of thought.
None of this is something Cruz would want in the air just as he's trying to lock down a win in the Iowa caucuses. But it may be something that he has to deal with sometime soon. - rs