The Washington Post recently ran a story about the 91-year old Republican woman who is a plaintiff in the Colorado case that removed Donald Trump from that state’s ballot.
In one way, the piece was just one more reminder of how very far today’s GOP is from the political party it used to be. The woman being profiled, Norma Anderson, was described as a trailblazing former GOP legislator, and she joins people like Liz Cheney and other “Never Trumpers” in reminding us that what is on display these days is a very far cry from both conservatism and what the Grand Old Party used to be.
But that article is only one commentary on a critically-important and unprecedented issue: should Trump be barred from the ballot under the very clear language of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment?
That Section reads as follows:
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.
The Guardian was among several media outlets that have reported on an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court by some of this nation’s most eminent historians. Twenty-five historians of the civil war and Reconstruction argued in support of the Colorado decision to remove Trump from the ballot.
“For historians,” the group wrote, “contemporary evidence from the decision-makers who sponsored, backed, and voted for the 14th amendment [ratified in 1868] is most probative. Analysis of this evidence demonstrates that decision-makers crafted section three to cover the president and to create an enduring check on insurrection, requiring no additional action from Congress.”
Sean Wilentz of Princeton is a well-regarded historian who did not participate in the Supreme Court brief, but he too has dismissed arguments for allowing Trump to remain on the ballot.
“By their reasoning,” Wilentz writes, “Trump’s misdeeds aside, enforcement of the 14th amendment poses a greater threat to our wounded democracy than Trump’s candidacy. In the name of defending democracy, they would speciously enable the man who did the wounding and now promises to do much more.”…
“Whether motivated by … fear of Trump’s base, a perverted sense of democratic evenhandedness, a reflexive hostility toward liberals, or something else, [commentators who say Trump should stay on the ballot] betray a basic ignorance of the relevant history and thus a misconception of what the 14th amendment actually meant and means. That history, meanwhile, has placed the conservative members of the Supreme Court in a very tight spot.”
No kidding. And they’re ducking and weaving…
“Textualists” and “original intent” devotees on the Court are faced with unambiguous language buttressed by reams of contemporaneous evidence submitted by the historians. The hearing Thursday telegraphed the Court’s reluctance to give the Fourteenth Amendment language its obviously intended effect. The decision is likely to be another nail in the coffin of this Court’s eroding legitimacy.
It’s true that a decision following the clear Constitutional language would run the risk of unleashing a violent reaction from the populists and neo-Nazis who support Trump. Recognition of that probability has led some pundits to argue that the Court should punt–that it should “save democracy” by leaving Trump’s fate to the tender mercies of the voting public.
I understand that desire, which the Court clearly shares.
I truly believe that the likely match-up between Biden and Trump will result in a massive repudiation of Trump and his cult–that Trump’s intensifying and increasingly obvious mental decline, on top of his ignorance, narcissism and generally repulsive persona will lead to a massive rejection of the GOP at the polls. (Discount the polling averages that seem to show Trump even with or defeating Biden; as several scholars have noted, those averages include a large number of low-quality, partisan polls with which GOP propagandists have “flooded the zone.”)
It would be far more satisfying to defeat Trump at the polls, but America is facing a crucial test of our commitment to the rule of law. Are we, as John Adams famously proclaimed, a “nation of laws, not men”? Or are we a nation of scofflaws, ready to abandon rules when we find them inconvenient or unpopular?
The Court appears ready to place us among the scofflaws.