Media analysis of Supreme Court hearings on 14th Amendment ballot removal issue signal possible unanimous ruling in Trump's favor

 February 11, 2024

The Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments in the case of the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling to bar former President Donald Trump from the state's election ballots under the disputed auspices of the "insurrection" clause in Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, and it did not go well for those seeking Trump's disqualification from holding office.

In fact, even some of his most bitter opponents are warning their fellow Trump-haters to prepare for the likelihood of a unanimous decision from the high court in favor of the former president's eligibility, as evidenced by an inadvertently hilarious Daily Beast article.

Indeed, it appears probable that at least two, if not all three, of the Supreme Court's liberal-leaning jurists -- Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagen, and Sonia Sotomayor -- will join their six conservative-leaning colleagues in ruling against the Colorado Supreme Court's anti-Trump ballot removal decision.

How dare the liberal justices align with their conservative colleagues?!?

The Daily Beast predictably discounted and ignored the questions raised about the Colorado ruling and its broader impact by the Supreme Court's three most solidly conservative-leaning jurists -- Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas -- but was clearly perplexed and even angered by the appearance of an alignment between those three and liberal Justices Jackson and Kagen.

The outlet took issue with Jackson seemingly confirming her prior claims to be a "textualist," meaning she adheres to the plain text of the statute in question -- in this case, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which barred former Confederates from holding office if they "engaged in insurrection" after previously swearing an oath to the Constitution -- instead of coming up with her own interpretation of what she thinks it should mean.

In looking at the amendment's wording, Jackson asked the anti-Trump attorney, "Why didn’t they put the word 'president' in the very enumerated list in section three? The thing that is really troubling to me is I totally understand your argument, but they were listing people that were barred and the president is not there."

The Daily Beast was further unsettled by Kagen's line of questions that signaled her own unease with individual states eschewing a national standard and deciding for themselves who is and isn't qualified to run for and hold public office.

Kagen said to the anti-Trump lawyer, "I think the question you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be President of the United States. In other words, this question of whether a former president is disqualified for insurrection. It sounds awfully national to me."

Sotomayor quiet after realizing where all other justices stood

Politico reported that it seemed apparent following Thursday's oral arguments that most, if not all, of the Supreme Court's nine justices shared a healthy skepticism toward the Colorado court's ruling -- with similar decisions pending in several other states -- to remove former President Trump from the ballot.

Like the Daily Beast, Politico was unsurprised by the stance taken by Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas, and suggested that it was a "grim sign" for those who support the ballot removal efforts that the court's three relatively moderate jurists -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett -- appeared to agree with their more conservative colleagues.

And, while the outlet also expressed some surprise about the apparent positioning of Justices Jackson and Kagen, it was observed that in terms of the near-unanimous alignment against the Colorado ruling, "Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the lone exception -- she was not particularly active once it became clear which way most of her colleagues were leaning."

No timeline on final decision, but court likely to move quickly

SCOTUSblog, as usual, provided a thorough and generally unbiased analysis of how the oral arguments played out on Thursday and also reached the conclusion that barring any unforeseen changes behind closed doors, the Supreme Court "appears unlikely to kick Trump off Colorado ballot."

"During an oral argument that lasted for more than two hours," the outlet explained, "justices of all ideological stripes questioned the wisdom of allowing a state to make its own decisions about whether a candidate should appear on the ballot, both because of the effect that such decisions would have on the rest of the country and because of the hurdles that courts would face in reviewing those decisions."

In the end, "There is no way to know when the justices will issue their decision. The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling is currently on hold, so Trump will remain on the ballot there unless the justices decide otherwise, but the court is nonetheless likely to act relatively quickly to resolve the issue because of its significance for other states where challenges to his eligibility are pending."

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