Supreme Court will likely be forced to settle state disputes over Trump's ballot eligibility under 14th Amendment

 December 30, 2023

A split has developed at the state level on the question of whether former President Donald Trump is disqualified to hold public office or even appear on a ballot under the auspices of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

That split has ratcheted up the pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to quickly intervene and render a final decision on whether the Amendment's "insurrection and rebellion" clause applies to Trump and has made him ineligible to be president again, The Washington Post reported.

The Colorado Supreme Court, along with Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, recently ruled that Trump was disqualified due to his alleged role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot of 2021 -- deemed an "insurrection" by some critics -- before leaving office two weeks later, while several other states have ruled otherwise and numerous other lawsuits remain pending.

The 14th Amendment's "insurrection or rebellion" clause

At issue here is the post-Civil War 14th Amendment and its rarely-invoked third section which was intended to keep former Confederate officers and politicians who'd previously sworn an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution from holding public office again in the newly reconstituted United States after having "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

Some of former President Trump's most ardent critics, on the left and the right, have argued that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot constituted an "insurrection or rebellion" and have asserted that Trump's post-2020 election actions and words incited that unrest and therefore renders him disqualified to hold office again.

Of course, many others disagree with that theory and point out that Trump hasn't even been charged with "insurrection," much less been convicted of it, as well as that there is a real legal debate over whether Section 3 even applies to the presidency.

That entire debate will likely need to be swiftly addressed by the Supreme Court on an expedited timeline as deadlines are rapidly approaching for states to print and send out ballots ahead of the impending 2024 primary elections.

Only two of dozens of ballot removal efforts successful thus far

According to a Lawfare tracker, anti-Trump 14th Amendment lawsuits and complaints have been filed in more than half of the states -- though more than half of those have already been dismissed by federal and state courts or were voluntarily withdrawn by the plaintiffs.

Only Colorado and Maine have thus far deemed former President Trump disqualified but dismissals in two states -- Arizona and West Virginia -- are pending appeal and other complaints or lawsuits remain pending in 11 other states.

Notably, per The Post, the decisions in Colorado and Maine were immediately stayed by the court and the secretary that respectively made those determinations in light of an inevitable appeal, meaning that Trump will still appear on those ballots unless or until the Supreme Court says otherwise.

Further, while anything is possible, it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will side with the challengers to Trump's eligibility and rule that he is disqualified from holding office, given the court's 6-3 conservative-leaning majority and the fact that three of the justices were appointed by Trump himself.

Trump and his campaign are fighting back

Former President Trump and his campaign have unsurprisingly vowed to fight these ballot removal efforts every step of the way, up to and including the Supreme Court, and have been vociferously outspoken in critiquing the decidedly undemocratic attempts by Democratic justices and state officials to prevent voters from supporting the leading Republican candidate for the party's 2024 presidential nomination.

"We are witnessing, in real-time, the attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter," Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told The Post. "Democrats in blue states are recklessly and un-Constitutionally suspending the civil rights of the American voters by attempting to summarily remove President Trump’s name from ballots."

"These partisan election interference efforts are a hostile assault on American democracy," he added.

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