June 21, 2024

Supreme Court Justices appear hostile to Trump disqualification effort


The Supreme Court appeared to sharply veer against the Colorado voters challenging former President Donald Trump’s eligibility to run for office.

Justices on both the left and right raised pointed questions to Jason Murray, the lawyer arguing in favor of Colorado’s position, about the “extraordinary” ramifications of letting individual states decide whether a candidate is an insurrectionist.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that would essentially empower individual states to exert unilateral control over federal elections, a position “at war” with the notion that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment was intended to empower the federal government to constrain wayward states. He was quickly followed by Justice Elena Kagan, who said permitting a single state to effectively tip the entire national election would be an “extraordinary” ruling.

“Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination, not only for their own citizens, but for the rest of the nation?”

The tenor of the questions suggested the court was leaning heavily against those seeking Trump’s removal from the 2024 ballot, and seemed inclined to overturn the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court that deemed Trump ineligible to be president again. The justices appeared hostile to the notion that states could be the arbiters of the 14th Amendment’s “insurrection clause,” a post-Civil War amendment intended to bar former Confederate leaders from holding office.

The challengers argued that Trump ran afoul of this clause by stoking violence on Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of his supporters ransacked the Capitol and many attempted to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory.But the justices repeatedly worried that permitting states to determine Trump’s eligibility could lead to consequences that could unravel the republic.

Roberts said states could adopt different standards, relying on disparate evidence, to remove various candidates from the ballot. Justice Samuel Alito asked whether military commanders could disobey orders from a commander-in-chief the moment they determined that a president engaged in an insurrection.

“I would expect that a goodly number of states will say: ‘Whoever the Democratic candidate is, you’re off the ballot,’” Roberts said. “That’s a pretty daunting consequence.”

The odds seemed stacked against the challengers even before the hearing began, with legal experts anticipating hostility from the justices that cut across partisan lines. Thursday’s questioning seemed to confirm that view.

Not only were conservative justices sharply critical, the court’s liberal justices also worried aloud about the impact of the ruling.

“My question is why the framers would have designed a system that would — could — result in interim disuniformity in this way?” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said.

Justice Samuel Alito drilled down on a previously unaddressed clause of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment: one that applies to someone who has “given aid or comfort to the enemies” of the United States. Alito asked attorney Jason Murray to consider whether the 14th Amendment should disqualify a president who authorizes the distribution of funds to a country that “proclaims again and again and again” that the United States is its enemy.

Chief Justice Roberts may have tipped both his — and perhaps the whole court’s — hand.

Amid a series of sharp questions by the conservative justices for those seeking Trump’s disqualification, Roberts made plain that he does not buy the conclusion that the 14th Amendment was meant to permit states to determine whether a candidate was an ineligible insurrectionist.

“The whole point of the 14th Amendment was to restrict state power, right?” he asked.

It’s “a position that is at war with the whole thrust of the 14th Amendment,” Roberts said, noting that the position would have empowered the former Confederate states to weigh in on whether a candidate is disqualified from holding federal office.

The 14th amendment was passed to constrain states’ rights and empower the federal government, Roberts said, and is “the last place you’d look for authorization for the states, including Confederate states, to enforce the presidential election process.”

The whole point of the 14th Amendment was to restrict state power, right? … That seems to be a position that is at — at war with the whole thrust of the 14th Amendment and very ahistorical.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh immediately picked up on Roberts’ question, reinforcing the point in a line of skeptical questions to the lawyers for the Colorado challengers.

The skeptical questions from Roberts and Kavanaugh are not a good sign for the challengers, because those two justices are considered the challengers’ most gettable votes among the court’s conservative majority.

Justice Elena Kagan followed up suggesting it would be “extraordinary” for a single state to effectively influence the entire nation’s presidential election.

Justice Samuel Alito raised questions about whether it was proper for the Colorado Supreme Court to allow the House report on the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to be used as evidence. That’s the first time the insurrection — the primary basis for the Colorado case and for all of the 14th Amendment cases — has been mentioned during these arguments.

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Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: A Listener’s Guide to Supreme Court Arguments Over Trump and the Ballot

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: A Listener’s Guide to Supreme Court Arguments Over Trump and the Ballot

There will be no cameras in the courtroom when the Supreme Court hears arguments over whether Donald Trump can be kept off the ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

There will be no cameras in the courtroom when the Supreme Court hears arguments over whether Donald Trump can be kept off the ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday over whether former President Donald Trump can be kept off the 2024 ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument: Former President Donald Trump’s Colorado Ballot Eligibility

U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument: Trump v. Anderson, a case concerning former President Trump’s appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court’s decision ruling him ineligible to be on the state’s presidential election ballot. The Supreme Court’s oral argument starts at 7:56. Former President Trump’s news conference begins at 2:25:41.

The justices will wrestle with whether a provision of the 14th Amendment aimed at keeping former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” can be applied to Trump, the leading candidate in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Supreme Court has never looked at the provision, Section 3, since the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. But Trump appealed to the high court after Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that he could be kept off the state’s primary ballot.

The court has allotted 80 minutes for arguments, but in a case of such importance, the session easily could last two hours or more.


Almost everything at the Supreme Court is based on seniority, with the chief justice first among equals. But after the lawyers make opening remarks, the next voice listeners will hear almost certainly will be the gravelly baritone of Justice Clarence Thomas. He has served longer than any of his colleagues and for years rarely participated in the arguments, saying he disliked the free-for-all and constant interrupting.

But when the court began hearing arguments remotely during the pandemic, Thomas began asking questions and hasn’t stopped. By informal agreement, the other justices stay silent to give Thomas first crack at the lawyers when the questioning begins.

In a second round, the justices ask questions in order of seniority, with Roberts leading off. Not everyone will necessarily have more to ask by this point.

Once both sides present their arguments, the lawyer for the party that appealed to the court gets a short, uninterrupted rebuttal.


The current court, especially the conservative justices, places a lot of weight on the meaning of laws and constitutional provisions at the time they were adopted. All the parties argue that history favors their reading of the provision, but they will face lots of questions from the court.


The discussion is likely to focus on several terms in the provision as the justices try to parse their meaning. The lawyers will put forth competing versions of whether Trump “engaged in insurrection.” They also will offer their views on whether the presidency is an “office … under the United States” and whether the president is an “officer of the United States.” A phrase that doesn’t appear in the amendment also might get bandied about. Trump’s lawyers and allies argue that Section 3 is not “self-executing,” and that Congress must pass legislation before the provision can be applied.


Salmon Chase, the 19th-century chief justice and politician, could get some air time during the arguments because of his views on whether Congress must act. In the space of a few months, Chase offered seemingly contradictory opinions that Section 3 needed no further action, in a case involving ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and that it did, in the case of a Black man who unsuccessfully sought to overturn a criminal conviction.

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