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March 04, 2024

Supreme Court Decides Trump v. Anderson

On March 4, 2024, the Supreme Court decided Trump v. Anderson, No. 23-719, holding that States may enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution against federal officeholders or candidates only to the extent Congress gives them authority to do so; and because Congress has not done so, the State of Colorado may not exclude former President Donald J. Trump from the ballot for the 2024 Republican Party primary.

A group of Colorado voters challenged former President Donald J. Trump’s eligibility to run for another term to serve as President of the United States. The voters alleged that Trump engaged in conduct on and around January 6, 2021, that disqualified him from holding office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Relying on Colorado state law that prohibits the placement of unqualified candidates on election ballots, the voters petitioned the Colorado secretary of state to exclude Trump from the ballot for the 2024 Republican Party primary as a candidate for President.

The Colorado state District Court found that Trump had “engaged in an insurrection” within the meaning of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, but it held that that constitutional provision does not apply to the Office of the Presidency, so it rejected the voters’ petition. On appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the state District Court’s findings concerning Trump’s conduct and its legal import, but it reversed the court’s interpretation of Section 3, concluding that that provision covers the President of the United States. Consequently, the Colorado Supreme Court directed Colorado’s secretary of state not to list Trump on the primary ballot or count any write-in votes submitted for him, though it stayed its opinion pending potential review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. Looking to the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that while States may rely on Section 3 to disqualify individuals holding or attempting to hold state office, they may not enforce Section 3’s terms, absent authorization from Congress, to exclude candidates from holding federal office, including the Office of the Presidency. The Court also reasoned that permitting state enforcement of Section 3 would risk creating a patchwork system that would sever the Framers’ desired connection between the federal government and the nation as a whole. The Court reiterated that Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment permits Congress to enact tailored legislation to enforce Section 3’s provisions, but, at this time, no such federal enforcement statute exists.

The Court issued the opinion per curiam. Justice Barrett filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment. Justice Sotomayor, Justice Kagan, and Justice Jackson jointly filed a separate opinion concurring in judgment.

Download Opinion of the Court

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