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The very long sentence that will decide if Trump can be kept off 2024 ballots

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The words “chaos and bedlam” are now synonymous with Jan. 6, 2021. That is also what Donald Trump’s lawyers argue will ensue if the U.S. Supreme Court allows any state to kick the former president off the 2024 ballot for his role in attempting to block the peaceful transfer of power. Trump’s eligibility to return to the White House hinges on one paragraph in the U.S. Constitution that is far from a model of clarity. Here’s what it says and doesn’t say and why it matters as the case moves forward.


Section 3 of the 14th Amendment contains one very long sentence laying out the circumstances under which someone can be disqualified from holding public office, but it raises many tough questions that have gone largely unanswered since the amendment was enacted more than 150 years. It says:


“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.”


English translation: If you took an oath to support the Constitution, and you break that oath by engaging in an insurrection — then you don’t get to hold public office again. But Section 3 is silent about whether the president or presidency are included here, what counts as an insurrection, and who exactly is supposed to enforce all of this.