Recently, two significant developments in American politics have brought attention to a little-known constitutional provision. Colorado’s Supreme Court made a groundbreaking decision declaring former President Donald Trump ineligible to run for president in the state. This ruling was based on a constitutional clause rarely invoked, aimed at individuals who have “engaged in insurrection.” Following Colorado’s lead, Maine’s Democratic Secretary of State also declared Trump ineligible for the presidential ballot in her state.
These rulings are presently on hold, pending further legal proceedings. This means that, for now, Trump remains a viable candidate in both Colorado and Maine. The outcome of these decisions hinges on the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation, particularly in light of the events of January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
The clause in question is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was initially intended to prevent former Confederates from holding government positions after the Civil War. This provision stipulates that anyone who has previously sworn to support the U.S. Constitution and subsequently engages in insurrection or rebellion, or aids enemies of the United States, is disqualified from holding public office. Though largely dormant since 1872, this clause has resurfaced in legal discussions following the Capitol attack.
Trump faces several lawsuits claiming he is disqualified from running for office due to his alleged involvement in the January 6 insurrection. The Colorado ruling marks the first successful application of Section 3 in this context, and it has prompted calls for other states’ secretaries of state to follow suit.
The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the applicability of Section 3 to the presidency, making these cases particularly significant. If the Court does not clarify this issue, it could lead to legal uncertainty and potential chaos, especially if Trump were to win the election and questions about his eligibility remain unresolved.
Amidst these legal battles, Trump’s defense team argues several points: the ambiguity of Section 3’s applicability to the presidency, the notion that such a disqualification should be decided by voters rather than judges, and the assertion that January 6 does not qualify as an insurrection under the terms of Section 3. They also maintain Trump’s involvement in the events was within his rights to free speech.
On the other side, those seeking to disqualify Trump argue that the case is straightforward: Trump incited an insurrection on January 6, thereby disqualifying himself from future office under Section 3.
This legal debate extends beyond Trump, raising broader questions about the limits of political eligibility and the role of the judiciary in determining these boundaries. As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to address these issues, the outcome will undoubtedly have profound implications for American politics and constitutional law.