Supreme Court ruling on Trump ballot eligibility: What it means, what the justices said and how we got here

The former president said he hopes the decision issued a day before Super Tuesday will "unify" the country.

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Former President Donald Trump was handed a major victory on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that he cannot be excluded from Colorado's primary election ballot over his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!" Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform, shortly after the ruling was handed down.

Speaking to reporters at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said he hoped the ruling would unify the country in allowing him to continue his bid for the White House.

"I think it will go a long way to bringing our country together, which our country needs," he said.

The former president had appealed the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to disqualify him under the 14th Amendment's Section 3, the so-called insurrection clause of the Constitution.

The unanimous decision came just one day before Colorado voters head to the polls on Super Tuesday.

Here’s what to know about the ruling.

🔎 What the ruling said

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

"Because the Constitution makes Congress, rather than the States, responsible for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates, we reverse," the justices wrote.

It’s the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on the insurrection clause, as the post-Civil War era provision was enacted in 1868 to prevent former Confederates from becoming a member of Congress or being elected to other offices.

It’s also the most significant case related to the presidential election that the high court has decided on since Bush v. Gore, in the 2000 election.

↘ What the liberal justices said

While the court's three liberal justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson concurred with the judgment, they disagreed with the conservative majority's rationale, saying it was unnecessary and went too far:

"The majority announces that a disqualification for insurrection can occur only when Congress enacts a particular kind of legislation pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment," Kagan, Sotomayor and Jackson wrote. "In doing so, the majority shuts the door on other potential means of federal enforcement. We cannot join an opinion that decides momentous and difficult issues unnecessarily, and we therefore concur only in the judgment."

🏔️ What the Colorado secretary of state said

Rioters clash with police outside the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Rioters clash with police outside the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"I am disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision stripping states of the authority to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment for federal candidates," Jena Griswold wrote on X. "Colorado should be able to bar oath-breaking [insurrectionists] from our ballot."

🇺🇲 What the ruling means

The highly anticipated ruling provides clarity as to who will appear on the ballot — not just for voters in Colorado as they head to the polls on Super Tuesday, but also in Illinois and Maine, where voters had petitioned for Trump to be disqualified from the ballot in those states, also citing the insurrection clause.

“Nothing of this nature can go forward in any state, not Maine, not Illinois, not anywhere else,” Ned Foley, a law professor and director of the election law program at Ohio State University, told Yahoo News. “That's one thing that's absolutely clear from today's ruling.”

After the ruling on Monday, Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, said Trump's spot on the state's ballot was restored.

“Consistent with my oath and obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and pursuant to the Anderson decision, I hereby withdraw my determination that Mr. Trump’s primary petition is invalid," she wrote.

➡️ How we got here

The case, known as Trump v. Anderson, centers on the so-called insurrection clause of the U.S. Constitution, formally known as Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. It prohibits officials who have previously sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding government office if they engage in insurrection.

Section 3 does not specifically mention the word “president” in a long list of government offices. Trump maintains that Section 3 doesn’t apply to him on two levels: because he did not engage in insurrection and the provision does not specify “president.”

However, Colorado voters argued that Trump did engage in insurrection on Jan. 6 and therefore should be disqualified from holding office under Section 3.

Trump, however, has not been explicitly charged with insurrection in any of the four criminal cases in which he has been indicted.

❓Unanswered questions

During the Feb. 8 oral arguments of Trump v. Anderson before the Supreme Court, many questions arose as to whether Section 3 applies to Trump, like whether he is considered an insurrectionist due to his actions on Jan. 6, or if the presidency is an “office” of the United States.

“Many of the issues that had to do with Section 3 and whether it actually applies to Trump, [the court] did not answer any of them one way or the other,” Foley told Yahoo News.

Foley said perhaps the main question is what congressional members, like Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, who voted to impeach Trump twice for insurrection, will do if Trump is elected into the White House again. Congresspeople like Raskin could accept the will of the voters, or, if some members feel that Trump shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oval Office, they could perhaps invoke Section 3.

“It could get very ugly between November this year and January 2025 if the court hasn’t really settled Section 3,” Foley said.

📃 Read the full Supreme Court ruling