Disqualified? Trump and Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

A Liberal Dose

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 First, I hope everyone had a merry Christmas (or other holiday) and wish all a happy new year.

That said…. Boy, is this year ending with a political bang. As you probably already know, the Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a lower ruling that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and further ruled that -pursuant to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment - he is barred from appearing on the presidential ballot, in Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court, which last week declined to expedite the decision about whether Trump is immune from prosecution because he was president, may agree to hear this case almost immediately. There is a lot riding on that SCOTUS decision. If they overturn the Colorado decision, everything will proceed as normal (if you can call what we do nowadays normal); if they sustain that Colorado decision, Trump may well be barred from appearing on ANY state’s ballots.

This has divided people along more than just political lines. Some people argue in favor of the Colorado decision, claiming it is an accurate reading of the Constitution and that the rule of law must be followed (“Let justice prevail, though the heavens fall,” as the Romans used to say). Others - and I’ve heard this from both ends of the political spectrum - say that voters alone should get to choose who to vote for as president. An opinion poll from Dec. 21 shows that 54 percent of Americans think Colorado made the right decision, while 35 percent disapproved of that decision (with 12 percent undecided). Not surprisingly, 84 percent of Democrats polled supported the decision. What I found surprising was that 48 percent of Independents supported Colorado, while only 35 percent disapproved - and that 24 percent of Republicans supported it with 66 percent disapproving. Why is that surprising to me? Significantly more Independents polled believe Trump should be disqualified to run for president than whose who disagreed. And while 24 percent is a small number, it means that one-quarter of Republicans think Trump should be disqualified - that is a minority, but a significant one. Not surprising: support for the decision is lowest in the South. Surprising: even so, in the South it is 48 percent in favor vs. 38 percent opposed.

Of course, opinions are like a certain body part: everyone has one, and everyone’s stinks except your own. So, what are the facts? Let’s tale a look at that 14th amendment, one of the three “Reconstruction amendments.” Here is Section 3, in its entirety:

 “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.”

The original district court ruling said that this did not apply because it does not specifically mention running for president. Colorado’s Supreme Court overturned that ruling as erroneous, pointing out that the president is named as an office 28 times in the Constitution and that, as the wording was being argued in the 1860s, the question came up and one of the authors said that “any office, civil or military,” obviously included the office of president.

Not having participated or supported an insurrection is a qualification to run, just like the fact a candidate must have been born a citizen, must be at least 35, and cannot serve more than two terms.

The only question, then, is: did Trump participate in or support an insurrection? I’ll address that next week - on the anniversary of the insurrection.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech and serves on the executive committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.       

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