Rule of Law

Anderson v. Griswold

In Anderson v. Griswold, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Donald Trump should be allowed to appear as a candidate on the Colorado ballot due to his disqualification from office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Case Summary

On September 6, 2023, a group of Colorado voters filed a complaint in the District Court for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, alleging that Donald Trump is prohibited from appearing as a candidate on the Colorado ballot due to his disqualification for office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the District Court concluded that Donald Trump had engaged in insurrection on January 6, 2021, it nonetheless rejected the voters’ claim because, in its view, Section Three does not apply to presidents or the presidency.

Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment disqualifies anyone “having previously taken an oath . . . to support the Constitution of the United States” who then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or g[ave] aid or comfort to enemies thereof” from holding state or federal office. CAC has filed a motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief, which shows why Section Three applies to both presidents and the presidency.

Our brief made three principal points. First, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, the presidency fell within the normal and ordinary meaning of an “office . . . under the United States,” and the president would have been understood to have taken an oath as an “officer of the United States.”

Dictionaries from the time of the drafting and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment show that the term “office” would have been understood to include the president, and the text of the Constitution itself refers to the presidency as an “office.” Before, during, and shortly after the Civil War, presidents wrote that they considered themselves “officers”; lawmakers, judges, and executive branch officials repeatedly referred to the president as an “officer of the Government”; and the Framers of Section Three often referred to the president as holding an “office” and serving as an “officer” of the United States.

Second, this broad text makes sense given the Framers’ plan for the Amendment. The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to prohibit officeholders who betrayed their country from holding political power again, and repeatedly emphasized that Section Three applied to anyone who violated the oath they took to support the Constitution. As various statements from the legislative debates make clear, the Framers concluded that this goal would best be served by enacting a provision that would prevent former officials who had betrayed the country from assuming the office of the presidency.

Third, in the years following the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, courts consistently defined the term “officer” to have a broad scope, specifying that the relevant test for whether an individual was an “officer” within the reach of Section Three was whether or not the individual swore an oath of office. The president does and is thus an “officer” under this definition.

In sum, an interpretation of Section Three that exempts presidents and the presidency would depart from the provision’s clear text and be at odds with its history.

In December 2023, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its decision, reversing the district court’s ruling and holding that Trump is disqualified from holding the office of the president under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore may not appear on the Colorado ballot. The Court explained that, contrary to the district court’s findings, Section Three does apply to former presidents and the office of the presidency, and thus Trump’s engagement in the January 6 insurrection disqualifies him from the office. The Court stayed its decision pending review by the United States Supreme Court.

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