|Former President Donald Trump’s bid to win back the White House is now threatened by two sentences added to the U.S. Constitution 155 years ago.
The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday barred Trump from the state’s ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who swore an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it from holding office. It’s the first time in history the provision has been used to prohibit someone from running for the presidency, and the U..S. Supreme Court is likely to have the final say over whether the ruling will stand.
If it does — which many legal experts say is a longshot — it’s the end of Trump’s campaign because a Supreme Court decision would apply not just in Colorado, but to all states. It also could open a new world of political combat, as politicians in the future fish for judicial rulings to disqualify their rivals under the same provision.
Some conservatives have even considered using it against Vice President Kamala Harris, who raised bail money for those jailed during the violence following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They said that also should be considered an “insurrection” against the Constitution.
So far, very little in the real world. Aware that the case was very likely going to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 4-3 Colorado Supreme Court majority stayed their own order until Jan. 4 — the day before the state’s primary ballots are due at the printer — or until the Supreme Court rules.
Technically, the ruling applies only to Colorado, and secretaries of state elsewhere are issuing statements saying Trump remains on the ballot in their state’s primary or caucus.But it could embolden other states to knock Trump off the ballot. Activists have asked state election officials to do so unilaterally, but none have. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed, but all failed until Colorado.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the meaning of Section 3. The justices can take the case as quickly as they like once Trump’s campaign files its appeal, which is not expected this week. The high court then could rule in a variety of ways — from upholding the ruling to striking it down to dodging the central questions on legal technicalities. But many experts warn that it would be risky to leave such a vital constitutional question unanswered.
“It is imperative for the political stability of the U.S. to get a definitive judicial resolution of these questions as soon as possible,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote shortly after the ruling. “Voters need to know if the candidate they are supporting for president is eligible.”