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.
– Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution
In December, 2023, the Colorado Supreme Court made the news when it ruled with a 4-3 vote that former President Donald Trump be removed from the state’s 2024 presidential primary ballot. The decision, which aligns with a similar finding from the Maine Secretary of State, but which runs contrary to a number of other state court’s determinations, was based upon the Colorado Supreme Court’s interpretation of Section 3 of the 14th amendment. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War, was primarily crafted to address the legal status of formerly enslaved individuals and to ensure their rights as citizens. Section 3 expanded the amendment’s scope and specifically addressed the issue of individuals who have engaged in rebellion or insurrection against the U.S..
Throughout history, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has been invoked sparingly. However, it has gained renewed attention in the wake of the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. In September, 2022 a New Mexico court ruled that Couy Griffin, Cowboys for Trump co-founder and convicted participant in January 6th must be removed from his position as an Otero County commissioner under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Couy Griffin and former President Trump are just two of a number of politicians who have had their eligibility for elected office challenged in the wake of January 6th.
The interpretation and application of Section 3 remain subject to legal debates and complexities. Determining the extent of involvement or support for insurrection or rebellion can be contentious and often requires a thorough examination of facts and context. In former President Trump’s case, there have been additional questions around whether the position of United States President is considered a “officer of the United States”, and whether the enforcement of Section 3 explicitly requires additional legislation. Additionally, there are questions around when Section 3 is triggered: whether its enactment can only happen after an individual is elected or, as is the Colorado case, can be enforced during the election process. These questions, as the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, seem destined to be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This week’s Current Events resources examine how the 14th Amendment of the Constitution can and has been applied to prospective elected office holders. The resources shared provide information and context around the current court cases, including those involving former President Trump that have Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and insurrection as their pivotal issue.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What does the 14th amendment say about elections?
- How was the 14th amendment influenced by the time period it was passed?
- Who is, and should, be considered an “officer of the United States”?
- In your opinion, which parts, if any, of Section 3 of the 14th amendment should be written to add clarity to the section? Explain.
- In your opinion, when and who should enact the prohibition of someone who qualifies under section 3 of the 14th Amendment from holding office?
- In your opinion, what are the most important factors that need to be considered when determining whether or not former President Trump should be disqualified from holding office under the 14th Amendment
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
What’s next after Colorado? Here’s where other challenges to Trump’s candidacy stand, The NPR Politics Podcast, December 21, 2023
Donald Trump’s Controversial Colorado Disqualification, Opinion: Potomac Watch, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2023
Is President Trump Disqualified from Office Under the 14th Amendment?, We The People, National Constitution Center, August 31, 2023
The 14th Amendment, Civics 101: A Podcast
Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Other Rights, Constitution Annotated
Landmark Legislation: The Fourteenth Amendment, United States Senate
Fourteenth Amendment, Legal Information Institute
Anderson v. Griswold – Election Law – Fourteenth Amendment, The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado
Trump Ruling in Colorado Will Test Conservative Approach to Law, The New York Times, December 21, 2023
Maine’s top election official removes Trump from 2024 primary ballot, CNN, December 29, 2023
The Constitution’s insurrection clause threatens Trump’s campaign. Here is how that is playing out, Associated Press, December 20, 2023
What is the 14th Amendment? Why Colorado disqualified Trump and removed him from ballot, USA Today, December 20, 2023
The 14th Amendment plan to disqualify Trump, explained, BBC, December 20, 2023
Trump disqualified for insurrection? Under 14th Amendment, it’s happened before., The Washington Post, December 20, 2023
Trump demands recusal of Maine secretary of state in 14th Amendment determination, The Hill, December 27, 2023
Group sues Oregon Secretary of State Griffin-Valade to keep Trump off ballot, OPB, December 7, 2023
Why 14th Amendment bars Trump from office: A constitutional law scholar explains principle behind Colorado Supreme Court ruling, The Conversation, December 19, 2023
Opinion | Legal Scholars Say the 14th Amendment Bars Trump From Office. Here’s What History Says., Politico, August 25, 2023
2023 National Lawyers Convention: Insurrection & the 14th Amendment, The Federalist Society, December 20, 2023
Can the 14th Amendment be used to ensure Trump can’t run for office again?, PBS Newshour Classroom
Constitution Clips: U.S. Constitution: 14th Amendment, Section 3, C-SPAN Classroom
Video Clip: Colorado Supreme Court Disqualifies Trump from 2024 Ballot, C-SPAN Classroom
How do Judges Interpret the Constitution?, Street Law
Resources for Younger Students:
6 Ways to Celebrate Constitution Day in the Elementary Classroom: Great Teaching Ideas, Bright Hub Education