Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Ruling in Trump Ballot Case

Civil Rights Policy Brief #220 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | March 11, 2024

Featured Photo by Indy Silva for US Renew Democracy News, 2024

__________________________________

Policy Summary: On January 6th, 2021, President Donald Trump incited an insurrection by encouraging his supporters to march to the United States Capitol in order to try to force then Vice President Mike Pence and the U.S. Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over Mr. Trump. After his defeat, which Mr. Trump has never fully accepted, Mr. Trump again announced that he would run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Because of his actions on January 6th, voters in Colorado filed a petition in Colorado state court against Donald Trump and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. The petition requested that Donald Trump be removed from the Colorado 2024 ballot for President due to the fact that he incited the January 6th insurrection. The petitioners pointed to Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Section 3 provides:

“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.”

Additionally, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides, “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

After a trial in the Colorado trial court, the case was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. In a 4 – 3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that January 6th was an insurrection and that President Trump engaged in it. They then ruled that Trump was ineligible to be on the 2024 Colorado ballot for President under Section 3. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In a unanimous 9 – 0 ruling, the Court ruled that Colorado could not remove Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot. LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: The ruling issued by the Supreme Court was disappointing in the judgment but even more so in that the ruling was unanimous. All nine justices agreed that a state could not remove Donald Trump from the ballot for President of the United States although small cracks showed that there were divisions on the Court.

This case is pretty straightforward. The Court’s rationale for its ruling is because of how Section 3 and Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment are intertwined together. Rather than permit individual states to make a determination as to whether a candidate has violated Section 3 and whether the person has engaged in an insurrection, the Court said that Section 3 can only be invoked if Congress, under Section 5, had passed “appropriate legislation.” The failure to have an enabling statute passed by Congress would lead to a “patchwork” of individual and likely inconsistent decisions around the country. Also, the Court ruled that the disqualification clause of Section 3 only applied to state office holders and not federal office holders. Congress would need to step in and pass legislation to implement Section 3 in order to put forth rules that would apply for all federal office holders around the country. Until then, states like Colorado could not keep Donald Trump off the ballot.

While all nine justices signed on to the judgment, three Justices (Sotomayor, Kagan and Jackson) issued a concurring opinion that included details that should be noted. The concurring opinion points out that all of the other Reconstruction Amendments (due process, equal protection guarantees and the prohibition of slavery) are “self – executing” amendments, meaning that they go into effect without the need for Congress to pass legislation to implement them. If those are “self – executing” then why was Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment singled out as requiring Congressional legislation? And the concurring opinion also points out that the Twenty – Second Amendment, dealing with presidential qualifications by limiting a person to only two terms, also is self – executing and not in need of Congressional legislation to implement. Why is Section 3 the only clause requiring implementing legislation while all those other amendments do not? The concurrence points out these details and states that the majority opinion today may have gone out of its way to create a special rule for the insurrection disability clause in Section 3 when it really didn’t have to. Were they trying to insulate candidate Trump from a rule that could disqualify him? These are notable details worthy of further discussion. But in the end, these three Justices signed on to the per curiam opinion which will allow Donald Trump to remain on the Colorado (and Maine and Illinois) presidential ballots for 2024. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources
  • Politico – an analysis of the Court’s Trump v. Anderson ruling.
  • History.com – history of the Fourteenth Amendment’s disqualification clause.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact rodwood@email.com.

Stay in-the-know with the latest updates from our reporters by subscribing to the US Renew Democracy Weekly Newsletter. We depend on support from readers like you to aide in protecting fearless independent journalism, so please consider donating to keep democracy alive today!

DONATE NOW
Subscribe Below to Our News Service

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This