You have probably heard by now that on Thursday, Maine Secretary of State Shanna Bellows announced that Donald Trump’s petition to appear on the state’s primary ballot in invalid because he, having taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, subsequently waged a rebellion and insurrection against the U.S. Government. Trump’s actions were a clear violation of the 14th Amendment and he is barred from holding any state or federal office for the rest of his life. The Supreme Court in Colorado ruled the same way, while courts in Minnesota and Michigan will allow Trump to appear on the primary ballot in their states. Whether he’s eligible to appear on the general election ballot in those states is still undetermined.
These cases will be decided by the Supreme Court, and my money is on the Court siding with Trump, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. We should acknowledge that the 14th Amendment wouldn’t have a Section 3 on Disqualification from Holding Office if it were never permissible to disqualify someone from office. That seems like ironclad logic, right?
Okay, let’s look again at the language:
Section 3 Disqualification from Holding Office
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.
Now, naturally no one is going to care if some schlub who has no support is disqualified from office. But if someone like Robert E. Lee is disqualified despite polling showing he is supported by millions, that’s going to make millions of people upset. That’s why this language isn’t in a statute easily overturned by Congress, but an amendment to the Constitution.
Of course, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine doesn’t see a political advantage in supporting her Secretary of State and is critical of her decision. But, I’ll remind you that Collins was one of seven Republicans senators who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. The single article of impeachment charged Trump with “Incitement to Insurrection.” Here is how the article concluded:
Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
So, Sen. Collins, having voted to deny Trump any future office, now says this:
“Maine voters should decide who wins the election – not a Secretary of State chosen by the Legislature,” said Collins, who is known as a moderate Republican who has hesitated to support Trump in the past, in a social media post. “The Secretary of State’s decision would deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice, and it should be overturned.”
It’s as if it never occurred to Collins that she had already made the same determination that Secretary of State Bellows used to deny Trump a place on Maine’s ballot. It’s also as if she never considered that kicking someone off the ballot necessarily precludes voters from electing that person.
I suppose Collins will split hairs and say that “well, yes, I voted to kick Trump off all future ballots but I was overruled and he was acquitted.” And that’s true. But on the merits we know what she thinks. And Trump wasn’t acquitted from the 14th Amendment, only from the impeachment charge. Those are two distinct avenues for declaring Trump ineligible for future office.
The question with the 14th Amendment is who is supposed to enforce it. It says two-thirds of each house of Congress can restore Trump’s rights. It doesn’t say who can take them away.
That’s for lawyers to argue. I just want to point out that Susan Collins is doing her usual trick of voting one way and then saying something else. Sometimes she reverses this and says one thing and then votes for the other thing.
She said Trump incited and insurrection and should never hold future office. Now when her Secretary of State agrees, she’s a critic.