DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump, the chief propagator of false “birther” claims first against then-President Barack Obama and later against Sen. Ted Cruz, has a new target: Nikki Haley.
As Haley surges in New Hampshire polling, Trump posted an article on his Truth Social account from a right-wing outlet that claimed Haley, his GOP rival, is ineligible to be president because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born.
Haley was born in South Carolina and has lived in the U.S. her entire life. Her parents were immigrants, who became citizens after her birth in 1972.
“The birther claims against Nikki Haley are totally baseless as a legal and constitutional matter,” Harvard Law School professor emeritus Laurence Tribe wrote in an email. “I can’t imagine what Trump hopes to gain by those claims unless it’s to play the race card against the former governor and UN ambassador as a woman of color — and to draw on the wellsprings of anti-immigrant prejudice by reminding everyone that Haley’s parents weren’t citizens when she was born in the USA.”
The 14th Amendment clearly states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are citizens. It was enacted after the Civil War to confer citizenship upon Black Americans who had previously been slaves.
“Someone should tell him [Trump] that the North won” the Civil War, joked Burt Neuborne, a professor emeritus at New York University Law School and the founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice.
“If you’re born in the United States, the whole purpose of the 14th Amendment was to make you a citizen,” he added.
To be eligible for the presidency, a person must be a “natural born citizen” and at least 35 years old and must have resided in the country for at least 14 years.
Trump has argued that “birthright citizenship” should be taken away for the children of undocumented immigrants.
The Trump campaign, asked about his social media post, provided no further statement.
The Haley campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has frequently targeted his birther claims at people of color.
In 2020, Trump also amplified a similar theory against Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris was born in the U.S. to parents who were Jamaican and Indian immigrants.
Trump’s prominence on the far right rose in large part because of his vocal embrace of conspiracy theories centered on the claim that Obama was ineligible to be president because he was not born in Hawaii. In 2011, Trump perpetuated the false claims that Obama’s birth certificate was fake.
And eight years ago, Trump took the same tack in an effort to undercut Cruz, R-Texas, then his rival for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump claimed Cruz was ineligible for the White House because he was born in Canada, though his mother was a U.S. citizen at the time.
Trump used the birther claim to incessantly attack Cruz during their primary battle and repeatedly threatened to “sue [Cruz] for not being a natural born citizen,” although he never followed through with the threat. Supporters of Trump, however, often used Cruz’s birthplace to attack his presidential bid.
At the time, legal scholars roundly rejected the argument. Neal Katyal, who was acting solicitor general under Obama, and Paul Clement, who was solicitor general under President George W. Bush, wrote against the argument in the Harvard Law Review in 2015.
“But as Congress has recognized since the Founding, a person born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent is generally a U.S. citizen from birth with no need for naturalization. And the phrase ‘natural born Citizen’ in the Constitution encompasses all such citizens from birth,” they wrote.
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, an MSNBC columnist, called Trump’s suggestion that Haley is ineligible “offensive” but also noted that it could be an issue that eventually makes its way to the courts more fully.
“It’s an offensive question that’s contrary to American values,” she said. “The Founding Fathers imposed a restriction, but it’s hard to believe that it was meant to burden a second generation of American citizens born on American soil like Nikki Haley. But nonetheless, the question of the term ‘natural born citizen’ has not been fully fleshed out in the courts, and it may be that Trump is relegating us to more meaningless discourse in this area just like he did with the birther lies about Obama.”