top of page
  • Writer's pictureJVC

The Insurrectionist Disqualification: Why States Can't Unilaterally Enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court has ruled in Trump v. Anderson that states cannot unilaterally disqualify candidates from presidential ballots based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Reddit forums and comment sections are alight with arguments on this, after responding to nearly100 questions between my social media accounts and reddit forums I decided to simply write an article clearing up some misconceptions and give my interpretations (as well as the courts) in a way that people not as well versed in constitutional law can understand it.

I think it should be noted, I did not and still do not plan on voting for Trump, but I do side with the court on this one.

I have been involved with the military, poltical science and law both professionally in university and personally for the better part of a decade now. I like to think I have a decent ability to explain this law hub bub to the larger populace in a way that makes sense and that is what I am trying to do in this article here.

So let's get into it shall we?

Understanding Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment

Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in the wake of the Civil War, was designed to prevent former Confederates who had engaged in rebellion against the United States from holding public office. The text of Section 3 reads:

"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."

This provision establishes a disqualification for individuals who have taken an oath to support the Constitution and subsequently engaged in insurrection or rebellion.

Importantly, it also grants Congress the authority to remove this disqualification by a two-thirds vote in each House.

In Trump v. Anderson, the Supreme Court unanimously held that states cannot enforce Section 3 against candidates for federal office, including the presidency.

The Court's reasoning is grounded in the text and structure of the Constitution, as well as the historical context surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The majority opinion emphasizes that "nothing in the Constitution delegates to the States any power to enforce Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates."

This conclusion stems from the fundamental principle that the powers of the federal government are derived from the Constitution itself, not from the states.

As the Court notes, "Because federal officers 'owe their existence and functions to the united voice of the whole, not of a portion, of the people,' powers over their election and qualifications must be specifically 'delegated to, rather than reserved by, the States.'"

In contrast, the Constitution explicitly grants states the authority to enforce the qualifications for federal office outlined in Article II, Section 1, Clause 5, which sets forth the eligibility requirements for the presidency:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

These qualifications are considered self-executing, meaning that they do not require additional legislation to be enforceable. States have the power to ensure that candidates meet these basic eligibility criteria when placing them on the ballot.

However, the Court distinguishes the disqualification in Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment from the self-executing requirements in Article II.

The majority opinion notes that "[a]ll the Reconstruction Amendments (including the due process and equal protection guarantees and prohibition of slavery) 'are self-executing,' meaning that they do not depend on legislation" (quoting City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 524 (1997)).

By contrast, Section 3 is not self-executing, as evidenced by the provision granting Congress the authority to remove disqualifications by a two-thirds vote.

This distinction is significant because it underscores the unique role of Congress in enforcing Section 3.

The Court suggests that federal enforcement of this provision would likely require specific legislation enacted under Congress's Section 5 power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment "by appropriate legislation."

It is also worth noting that the Fourteenth Amendment as a whole was primarily focused on expanding and protecting voting rights, particularly for newly freed slaves.

Section 1 of the Amendment, which includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, was intended to ensure that all persons, including former slaves, were granted the rights and privileges of citizenship.

Section 2 addressed the apportionment of representatives in Congress, tying it to the number of male citizens eligible to vote in each state. These provisions, along with the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition on racial discrimination in voting, were critical in establishing the legal framework for a more inclusive democracy.

The Importance of Historical Context

The Court's decision also relies heavily on historical context. As the majority points out, there is a notable absence of any "tradition of state enforcement of Section 3 against federal officeholders or candidates in the years following ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment."

This lack of precedent, the Court argues, is a "telling indication" that states were not understood to possess this authority.

Protecting the Integrity of Presidential Elections

At the heart of the Court's reasoning is a deep concern for the integrity and uniformity of presidential elections. The majority stresses the "uniquely important national interest" at stake, emphasizing that allowing individual states to disqualify candidates under Section 3 "would be quite unlikely to yield a uniform answer consistent with the basic principle that 'the President . . . represent[s] all the voters in the Nation.'"

The Court warns against the dangers of a "patchwork" of inconsistent state decisions, potentially based on varying interpretations of Section 3 and differing state procedures.

Such a scenario, the majority argues, could "sever the direct link that the Framers found so critical between the National Government and the people of the United States."

The Role of Congress

While the Court's decision clearly rejects state enforcement of Section 3, it does not render the provision meaningless. Instead, the majority suggests that enforcement would likely require specific legislation enacted by Congress under its Section 5 power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment "by appropriate legislation."

Some have criticized this aspect of the ruling, arguing that it unnecessarily limits the application of Section 3.

However, it is essential to recognize that the Court's role is to interpret the Constitution, not to legislate. By pointing to Congress's authority, the Court is respecting the separation of powers and leaving the door open for federal enforcement if Congress deems it necessary.


The Court's decision in Trump v. Anderson can be seen as a reaffirmation of the federal government's primary role in enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment's provisions, including Section 3.

By rejecting state enforcement of this disqualification against candidates for federal office, the Court has worked to uphold the balance of power between the states and the federal government, as well as the essential uniformity of presidential elections.

While the ruling may leave some questions unanswered regarding the future application of Section 3, it provides a clear and compelling defense of the Constitution's allocation of powers between the feds and the states. If you want to be involved with discussions on AI, Politics and my other research with myself and other likeminded individuals, come check out our Discord:

29 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page