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SCOTUS Rules Trump to Stay on Ballot in Unanimous Ruling 9-0, MAGA Path Cleared for Super Tuesday

Supreme Court Rules Trump to Stay on Ballot in Unanimous Ruling

The high court ruled that states cannot enforce Section 3 to remove a presidential candidate, one day ahead of Super Tuesday.

March 4, 2024: The Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump cannot be removed from the ballot by individual states, overturning the Colorado Supreme Court decision that found him ineligible as a candidate and disqualified from the state ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

“[R]esponsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States. The judgment of the Colorado Supreme Court therefore cannot stand,” the per curiam order reads. “All nine Members of the Court agree with that result.”

The order was issued on March 4, just a day before more than a dozen states hold their primary elections.

Supreme Court Defers to Congress

The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot enforce Section 3 for national candidates, but “the Constitution empowers Congress to prescribe how those determinations to be made.”

Section 5 of the 14th Amendment spells out Congress’s authority to pass legislation to enforce the amendment, and the court opined that this “power is critical when it comes to Section 3.”

States may only enforce Section 3 when it comes to state office, the opinion reads, in line with how states have historically used the statute.

The court noted a distinct lack of historical precedent where states used the statute to disqualify national candidates.

“As an initial matter, not even the respondents contend that the Constitution authorizes States to somehow remove sitting federal officeholders who may be violating Section 3,” the opinion reads, adding that this sort of power would “flout” Constitutional principles.

The justices found that the text of Section 3 itself reinforces this reading, as it allows Congress to “remove” a Section 3 “disability” through a two-thirds vote.

“The text imposes no limits on that power, and Congress may exercise it any time,” the opinion reads.

In a footnote, the court cited cases where Congress voted to remove this disability for members of Congress after the candidates had been elected.

Experts who had predicted this ruling outcome had also warned of a potential last-minute disqualification in January. Four Supreme Court justices noted their disagreement in opining on Congress’s role in a presidential candidate disqualification.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote a separate, concurring opinion that primarily stressed the unanimity of the court.

“The Court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election,” she wrote. “Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up. For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case. That is the message Americans should take home.”

However, Justice Coney Barrett took issue with the part of the order that opined on the role of federal legislation in enforcing Section 3.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson likewise took issue with opining on federal legislation.

They wrote another concurring order that even though all nine members agreed Colorado could not enforce Section 3, the three justices thought the opinion should have ended there.

“The majority is left with next to no support for its requirement that a Section 3 disqualification can occur only pursuant to legislation enacted for that purpose,” the opinion reads.

“Although only an individual State’s action is at issue here, the majority opines on which federal actors can enforce Section 3, and how they must do so,” the opinion reads. “In doing so, the majority shuts the door on other potential means of federal enforcement. We cannot join an opinion that decides momentous and difficult issues unnecessarily, and we therefore concur only in the judgment.”

Section 3 Challenges

The Supreme Court found that “state-by-state resolution” of these cases would “raises heightened concerns,” because it would unlikely “yield a uniform answer consistent with the basic principle that “the President ... represent[s] all the voters in the Nation.”

States each have their own, varied election laws, and some allow for procedures to bring a disqualification challenge while others do not.

“The disruption would be all the more acute—and could nullify the votes of millions and change the election result—if Section 3 enforcement were attempted after the Nation has voted,” the opinion reads. “Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos—arriving at any time or different times, up to and perhaps beyond the Inauguration.”

As of mid-February, Trump attorneys reported 88 challenges to President Trump’s eligibility in 45 states under the Civil War-era statute.

Besides the Colorado Supreme Court, the Maine secretary of state and an Illinois judge had also ruled President Trump ineligible after finding that he engaged in an alleged “insurrection” for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021. All three disqualifications had been stayed pending a higher court ruling, and no state has actually removed President Trump from any ballot to date.

Justices heard arguments on Feb. 8, during which many of them expressed skepticism that Section 3 was meant to give individual states power over a national election for the position of president, and expressed concern over what affirming that power could do to future elections.

Attorney Jonathan Mitchell had argued that Section 3 did not apply to President Trump; that Jan. 6, 2021, was not an insurrection; and that only Congress could disqualify a presidential candidate under Section 3. While the House impeached President Trump in January 2021 on a single article of impeachment and alleged incitement of insurrection, the Senate later acquitted the former president of the allegations.

Attorney Jason Murray, representing six Colorado voters, argued that Section 3 and Colorado state law together allowed the state to disqualify President Trump as a candidate and urged the Supreme Court to affirm Colorado’s findings for all states.

The opinion had been greatly anticipated by many lower courts that held off determining the dozens of ballot challenges filed across nearly every state. Almost half a hundred amicus briefs were filed by officials, lawmakers, legal experts, and voters in the days leading up to oral arguments.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was originally written to prevent deserters who left office to join the Confederacy from returning to their posts. It stipulated that those who had taken an oath of office and later engaged in “insurrection” or “rebellions” could not hold office without a two-thirds vote from Congress removing the disability.

Since Jan. 7, 2021, activists had promoted the legal theory that President Trump was disqualified under this statute, asking top election officials across the nation to bar him from future elections. After a Colorado court tried the case late last year and issued the first ruling regarding Jan. 6 and an “insurrection,” Section 3 rulings snowballed into other states.

Colorado Disqualification

The Colorado case was brought last summer, and under the state’s election code was meant to be heard immediately. However, a district court judge delayed the case about two months before holding a week-long trial.

Plaintiffs presented witness and expert testimony and a record based largely on the controversial Jan. 6 Select Committee report. The original defendant of the case was Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who took no official position but later stated that she personally believed that President Trump engaged in “insurrection” and urged the Supreme Court to affirm his disqualification.

The trial court judge had not disqualified President Trump. Issuing a surprise ruling that determined President Trump had engaged in “insurrection,” the judge ruled that Section 3 did not apply to presidents and ordered the secretary of state to add him to the state’s primary ballot.

The plaintiffs and attorneys for President Trump appealed the case, and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the “insurrection” finding but reversed the lower court order, ordering the state secretary to remove him from the ballot if the case was not appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Jan. 5.

The Colorado GOP, an intervenor in the original case, appealed in short order and the removal was effectively stayed. President Trump appealed as well, and the Supreme Court opted to hear the simpler question his attorneys posed: whether the Colorado Supreme Court erred in its order to remove President Trump as a candidate.

This is a developing story and will be updated.


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