In his New York Times column today, David French argues that worrying about the “consequences” of keeping Trump off the ballot is not a legal argument.
Here is a taste:
It’s been just over two weeks since the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment disqualifies Donald Trump from holding the office of president of the United States. It stayed the effect of that ruling until this week. Pending further action from the Supreme Court of the United States — which Trump asked on Wednesday to overturn the ruling — the former president is off the Republican primary ballot in Colorado.
I spent way too much of my holiday vacation reading the legal and political commentary around the decision, and as I did so I found myself experiencing déjà vu. Since the rise of Trump, he and his movement have transgressed constitutional, legal and moral boundaries at will and then, when Americans attempt to impose consequences for those transgressions, Trump’s defenders and critics alike caution that the consequences will be “dangerous” or “destabilizing.”
There is already a “surge in violent threats” against the justices of the Colorado Supreme Court. The Yale Law School professor Samuel Moyn has argued that “rejecting Mr. Trump’s candidacy could well invite a repeat of the kind of violence that led to the prohibition on insurrectionists in public life in the first place.” Ian Bassin, a Protect Democracy co-founder, has suggested — and I agree — that even legal analysis of the 14th Amendment “is being colored by the analyst’s fear of how Trump and his supporters would react” to an adverse ruling.
This is where we are, and have now been for years: The Trump movement commits threats, violence and lies. And then it tries to escape accountability for those acts through more threats, more violence and more lies. At the heart of the “but the consequences” argument against disqualification is a confession that if we hold Trump accountable for his fomenting violence on Jan. 6, he might foment additional violence now.
Enough. It’s time to apply the plain language of the Constitution to Trump’s actions and remove him from the ballot — without fear of the consequences. Republics are not maintained by cowardice.
To understand the necessity of removing Trump, let’s go first to the relevant language from the 14th Amendment and then to some basic rules of legal interpretation. Here’s the language:
“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.”
You don’t have to be a lawyer to comprehend those words. You simply need some basic familiarity with American civics, the English language and a couple of common-sense rules of thumb. First, when interpreting the Constitution, text is king. If the text is clear enough, there is no need for historical analysis. You don’t need to know a special “legal” version of the English language. Just apply the words on the page.
French makes a good point here. Will the originalists step-up and defend the Constitution? It seems pretty simply to me.
Here is French again:
Second, it’s crucial to understand that many of the Constitution’s provisions are intentionally antidemocratic. The American republic is a democracy with guardrails. The Bill of Rights, for example, is a check on majoritarian tyranny. The American people can’t vote away your rights to speak, to exercise your religion or to due process. The Civil War Amendments, including the 14th Amendment, further expanded constitutional protections against majoritarian encroachment. Majorities can’t reimpose slavery, for example, nor can they take away your right to equal protection under the law.
So when a person critiques Section 3 as “undemocratic” or “undermining democracy,” your answer should be simple: Yes, it is undemocratic, exactly as it was intended to be. The amendments’ authors were worried that voters would send former Confederates right back into public office. If they had believed that the American electorate was wise enough not to vote for insurrectionists, they never would have drafted Section 3.
Read the rest here.
The United States Constitution, even with its amendments, is still a rather undemocratic document. The people don’t directly elect the President of the United States (if they did, we would probably be in the midst of Hillary Clinton’s final year of a two-term presidency.) The people don’t directly choose Supreme Court justices. Until 1913 they didn’t even elect Senators.
Ironically, these democratic arguments–“let the people decide, not the courts”–come from the folks who are quick to tell us that the United States is a “republic,” not a “democracy.”
Read French’s piece alongside law professor Andrew Koppelman’s piece at The New Republic.