Can the Law Stop Trump from Becoming President?

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #117 | By: Abigail Hunt | January 23, 2024
Photo taken from: www.cnn.com
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If there were a Guinness world record for most felony indictments by a U.S. President, Donald Trump would be the winner by a good margin. Trump faces 91 state or federal felony charges in four separate jurisdictions in New York, Georgia, Washington D.C., and Florida.  In New York, Trump faces a maximum total of 136 years in prison for 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree; the trial for these charges begins March 25. The federal elections case regarding Trump’s activities during the January 6th insurrection in the Capitol is set to begin March 4th and carries a maximum possible punishment of 55 years. In Georgia, Trump faces a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charge. If convicted on a RICO charge, Trump must serve a minimum of five years in prison, the only charge which carries a minimum sentencing requirement; it has a maximum of 20 years. In addition, Trump faces 12 other felony charges in Georgia. Finally, in Florida, Trump faces 450 years for mishandling classified documents; the trial there begins May 20.

Politicians in several states are already attempting to remove Trump from the ballot, reasoning that he violated the 14th Amendment by his actions on January 6th, 2021, and is ineligible to run for President. The 14th Amendment provides for Equal Protection and Other Rights, and in Section 3, the Disqualification from Holding Office clause clearly states as follows:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

In Maine, the secretary of state removed Trump from the ballot, and in Colorado, the state Supreme Court did the same.  Trump is appealing the decision in both cases. In other states, such as Minnesota and Michigan, the courts threw out similar lawsuits on procedural grounds. In Oregon, the state Supreme Court, largely democratic, will make a decision soon on Trump’s ballot eligibility. In Massachusetts, courts will begin hearing the case January 22nd and must have a decision a week later.

The forecast for Trump House: Part Two still looks relatively good. Trump is the GOP frontrunner by a long shot – the nearest challenger is Nikki Haley, but her predicted chances for November stand at 12 percent compared to Trump’s current 68 percent ranking. What happens if Trump is convicted? The Hill published a survey of Trump supporters which showed that a quarter of them would no longer support Trump as their Presidential nominee if he were convicted. However, almost all of those surveyed felt the charges against Trump were undeserved, politically motivated, and, if you’ll pardon the pun, trumped up.

The thing is, Trump could be convicted in every case and still become President if he got enough votes. The only way the law could prevent a second Trump term through disqualification would be through the 14th Amendment clause. There are few requirements to become President of the United States – any candidate must be a natural-born citizen, have lived in the country for at least 14 years, and be at least 35 years old. Being a felon is not a disqualifier. It seems the only hope of limiting Trump’s second climb to power lies with Supreme Courts at the state and federal levels. Ultimately, discussion and debate regarding the outcome of the various state lawsuits and felony charges is just noise – none of it prevents Trump from becoming President again.

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