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What Donald Trump gets wrong in his Supreme Court ballot appeal

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In the Colorado ballot appeal, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court petition claims that upholding the state high court’s ruling against him would disenfranchise voters. That’s not true — and understanding why that’s not true is key to understanding the 14th Amendment issue. 

The Constitution sets out requirements for presidential eligibility, including age, residency and citizenship. Obviously, it doesn’t disenfranchise voters to keep people who don’t meet those requirements from taking office. Likewise, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars insurrectionists who’ve sworn to support the Constitution from taking office. To be sure, there’s debate over how this disqualification clause applies, but stopping people from electing disqualified candidates doesn’t disenfranchise them any more than stopping them from electing a teenager would.

On that important question of how Section 3 applies, it’s worth tackling another aspect of Trump’s petition. He argues that this constitutional provision doesn’t apply to him. Before proceeding further, let’s look at what Section 3 says:

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.

Trump’s petition correctly observes that the position of president isn’t on that list and argues that it therefore “defies common sense” to apply Section 3 to the presidency. But common sense points in the other direction. As the voters who successfully challenged his eligibility via the Colorado Supreme Court noted, there’s “no reason to allow Presidents who lead an insurrection to serve again while preventing low-level government workers who act as foot soldiers from doing so.”

To be sure, there are several issues at play in this appeal, and Trump doesn’t need to win all of them to stay on the ballot. Plus, we’re still waiting to hear whether and when the justices are even taking up the issue, so it isn’t guaranteed that they’ll settle it in this Colorado case. But if and when they do, the justices will have their work cut out for them if they want to keep Trump on the ballot in 2024.

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