Who is Larry Tribe and why are Trump and Cruz talking about him?

Laurence H. Tribe

Story highlights

  • Trump cites Harvard professor Larry Tribe in his birther attack on Ted Cruz
  • Tribe has ties not only to Cruz, but President Barack Obama, Al Gore and other high-powered political players

(CNN)The Donald Trump-fueled debate over whether Ted Cruz qualifies to run for president came to a head during an extended back-and-forth between the front-runners in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday night.

Prompted by the Fox Business Network moderators, Trump again cited Larry Tribe, a law professor at Harvard University who has repeatedly suggested that Cruz's eligibility is not a "settled" legal matter and could ultimately disqualify him from taking the oath of office.
Cruz, whose American mother gave birth to him in Calgary, Canada, in 1970, sought to dismiss Trump's point by offering viewers a brief and unflattering biography of its source.
    "Let me tell you who Larry Tribe is," Cruz began. "He's a left-wing judicial activist Harvard Law professor who was Al Gore's lawyer in Bush versus Gore, he's a major Hillary Clinton supporter, and there's a reason why Hillary's supporters are echoing Donald's attacks on me."
    This is partially true. Tribe works at Harvard and argued on Gore's behalf at the Supreme Court in 2000. He is certainly a voice in liberal politics, though not -- at least not yet -- a formal backer of Clinton. He served in Obama's Justice Department and counts the President as one of his most prized former pupils.
    What Cruz did not mention is that Tribe, who recently led a court fight to stop the Obama administration's "Clean Power Plan," was also the Texas senator's own professor during his time in law school.
    Despite their ties, Tribe has repeatedly sought to undermine Cruz over the question of his eligibility.
    He responded to Cruz's attack in an interview on "Anderson Cooper 360" late Thursday, calling the issue "a serious cloud" over the senator's candidacy.
    "It has to be taken seriously," Tribe said. "It's not just a matter of coming up with great talking points or winning some debate. I think he does a disservice to the Constitution and the country when he thinks he can slide his way, slip slide his way around this serious constitutional issue."