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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 12:11 am

Is Ted Cruz eligible to run in Illinois?

Objections filed with Illinois election board raise questions

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz.


Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio face challenges in Illinois over their eligibility to be president, mirroring similar challenges in other states.

Filings with the state election board earlier this month allege the two U.S. senators are not natural born citizens. If successful, the challenges could knock candidates off of the March 15 primary ballot.

In addition to Cruz and Rubio, objections have been filed against former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of New Hampshire, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, San Diego real estate developer Rocky De La Fuente and Chicago resident Larry Cohen over whether their candidate documents were filed correctly.

To appear on the ballot in Illinois, presidential candidates from an established political party must file a declaration of their candidacy with the Illinois State Board of Elections, accompanied by 3,000 signatures from Illinois residents registered to vote. Any registered voter can challenge a candidate’s filings, and the challenges typically focus on whether the required signatures were collected correctly.

In the cases of Cruz and Rubio, however, the objections focus on whether the circumstances of their births should prevent them from becoming president. Emails to the Cruz and Rubio campaigns seeking comment were not returned by publication time.

Among other requirements, the U.S. Constitution says that the president must be a “natural born citizen.” The Constitution doesn’t define that term, leading to debate over whether certain people generally considered to be citizens – those born outside the U.S. to citizen parents and those born inside the U.S. to noncitizen parents – qualify as “natural born.”

Cruz was born in Canada, but his mother was a citizen at the time of his birth. Rubio was born in Florida, but his parents didn’t become citizens until later. The questions on their eligibility present an ironic situation in which conservative interpretations of the Constitution would bar two conservative candidates from the presidency.

William Graham of Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb, filed objections to both Cruz’s and Rubio’s nomination papers, claiming they are not natural born citizens and are therefore ineligible to be president. Graham says he actually supports and respects both men for their service as U.S. senators, but he was motivated to challenge their eligibility for president because he believes strongly that the U.S. Constitution must be upheld.

“I’m a voter and a citizen, and I believe in the Constitution of the United States,” Graham said. “I think it’s quite plain to those of us who have read the Constitution and read relevant Supreme Court decisions that the founders wanted the president to have a different status than citizen. They didn’t want the commander-in-chief to have divided allegiance.”

Asked whether he believes Cruz or Rubio would hold allegiance to another nation if elected president, Graham said he doesn’t know.

To support his belief that Cruz and Rubio are not eligible to be president, Graham relies on a legal analysis by Mario Apuzzo, a conservative lawyer from New Jersey. Apuzzo, in turn, heavily cites Minor v. Happerset, a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1874, which held that women could be citizens without having the right to vote. The case wasn’t necessarily about what constitutes a natural born citizen, and its conclusion regarding women’s suffrage was eventually made moot by the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Still, Apuzzo believes the decision still holds relevance for the debate over presidential eligibility. The decision doesn’t actually define what constitutes a natural born citizen, but Apuzzo argues that historical and legal evidence show that the court intended for only people born within the U.S. to citizen parents to be considered natural born citizens.

Graham says there has been “misinformation about what ‘natural born citizen’ means.”

“It typically comes from people who have some sort of agenda, whether politicians or media,” he said. “For people to say it’s unsettled or that we don’t know what ‘natural born’ means is not true.”

Lawrence Joyce, an attorney from Poplar Grove in northern Illinois, filed a separate objection alleging Cruz is not a natural born citizen. He did not object to Rubio’s candidacy. Joyce relies on a different U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Wong Kim Ark. That 1898 case held that a baby born in the U.S. to parents who were legal residents but not citizens was a citizen himself.

Joyce uses the case to argue that citizenship can only arise from being born in the U.S. to citizen parents or under other circumstances allowed by congressional action. He reasons that only those individuals whose citizenship doesn’t originate from congressional action count as “natural born” citizens.

It’s unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue because the potential harm to an individual voter challenging a candidate is seen as too vague. The high court has repeatedly declined to hear such cases, although lower courts may be more likely to do so.

Still, Joyce is confident he’ll prevail at the state elections board.

“I went into this with a great deal of hesitation,” he said. “I thought it would be convoluted, but it was more simple than I expected.”

Graham isn’t so sure.

“I know I’m up against powerful lawyers and the combine that runs the state,” he said. “My expectations here are very low.”

On Monday, retired Democratic state Sen. Rickey Hendon of Chicago dropped objections to the nominating papers of Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Rocky De La Fuente and Larry Cohen, who are all running as Democrats. Hendon told Illinois Times that he dropped the challenges because Chicago businessman and presidential candidate Willie Wilson, for whom Hendon is working as a political consultant, spoke with the other candidates at a meeting in Iowa and decided not to challenge their petitions. Hendon says Wilson is fighting for ballot access in Florida in Mississippi, which changed his mind about the objections Hendon filed on Wilson’s behalf in Illinois.

“We’re tired of the Democratic Party at different levels denying us access to the ballot,” Hendon said. “He wanted to prove he was for equal access to the ballot. We shouldn’t have a system where, unless you’re rich, you can’t get on the ballot.”

Volunteers for Sanders’ campaign attended a signature examination at the election board headquarters in Springfield on Jan. 22.

“On Friday, the court did a line-by-line examination of the signatures and confirmed what we already knew: that the vast majority of signatures are valid,” said Greg Minchak, a spokesman for Sanders. “We’re confident that, at the end of this process, Bernie Sanders will be on the March 15 primary ballot in Illinois, and we’re looking forward to a spirited campaign.”

Chicago resident Brant Davis filed a challenge against Hillary Clinton, alleging mistakes and invalid signatures in her nominating papers. Davis did not return a call seeking comment.

Michael Kerloff, an attorney representing Clinton’s campaign, referred questions regarding Davis’ objection to Rebecca Chalif, a Clinton spokeswoman. Chalif could not be reached for comment.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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