Rule of Law

Trump v. Anderson

In Trump v. Anderson, the Supreme Court considered whether Donald Trump should be prohibited from appearing as a candidate on the 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 from 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. On appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court held that Section Three does apply to former presidents and the office of the presidency, and it held that Trump could not appear on the ballot. Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment disqualifies anyone “having previously taken an oath as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States . . . 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 an “office … under the United States.” CAC filed an amicus curiae brief demonstrating that Section Three applies to both former presidents and the presidency. The brief makes two main points.

First, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the presidency fell within the normal and ordinary meaning of an “office . . . under the United States.” The text of the Constitution itself refers to the presidency as an “office,” and the Framers of Section Three often referred to the president as holding an “office” under the United States. Newspapers, dictionaries, and other sources from the time that Section Three was ratified also described the presidency in this way.

Similarly, the president was understood to have taken an oath as an “officer of the United States.” Dictionaries from the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification show that the term “officer” included the president. Before, during, and shortly after the Civil War, lawmakers, judges, executive branch officials, and even presidents themselves repeatedly referred to the president as an “officer” of the “United States” or the “Government.” Newspaper accounts confirmed the public perception that the president was an “officer of the United States. And the Framers of Section Three themselves considered the president an officer, regularly referring to the president as such.

Our brief also explains why Trump’s argument that “officer of the United States” does not encompass the president is wrong. Trump and his amici argue that the Supreme Court should focus on the meaning of that phrase in other parts of the Constitution that were ratified eighty years earlier. But, as we explain, they do not—and cannot—show that these phrases were used in such a limited sense when the Constitution was first ratified or, even more importantly, that the people who framed and ratified Section Three embraced the cramped reading of the original Constitution that they advance.

Second, applying Section Three to the presidency and former presidents 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 knew that the president took just such an oath.

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.

On March 4, 2024, the Supreme Court reversed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, holding that states cannot enforce Section Three against federal officeholders and candidates absent congressional legislation. While concurring in the judgment, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Jackson disagreed with the majority’s view regarding how federal disqualification efforts must operate, pointedly noting that “the text cuts the opposite way.”

Case Timeline