Takeaways from Trump’s Supreme Court win: He stays on ballot, but his legal peril is just starting

Published 4:11 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

DENVER (AP) — Former President Donald Trump gained a clear win at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, which unanimously ruled that states don’t have the ability to bar him — or any other federal candidates — from the ballot under a rarely-used constitutional provision that prohibits those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.

The decision shuts down a push in dozens of states to end Trump’s candidacy through a clause in the 14th Amendment, written to prevent former Confederates from serving in government after the Civil War.

But it may open the door to further electoral uncertainty, exposing more state officials to disqualification under the provision and setting up a constitutional showdown should Trump win the election.

Facing four separate criminal trials, Trump’s legal peril may just be beginning. So is the Supreme Court’s role in that process.

Here are some takeaways:


The most significant thing the court did Monday was to overturn a Colorado Supreme Court ruling from December that Trump was not eligible to be president because he violated the insurrection clause, Section 3, of the 14th Amendment.

This will also stop efforts to kick him off the ballot in Illinois, Maine and other states. Had the Supreme Court had let the Colorado ruling stand, it could have triggered a new wave of litigation that might have left Trump disqualified in many states.

The high court avoided addressing that politically contentious issue of whether Trump played a role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that would have barred him from seeking office. The ruling is almost devoid of references to Jan. 6 or insurrection, and doesn’t address whether Trump committed such an act by sparking the attack on the Capitol.

Instead it focuses on the technical, procedural question of who gets to decide an election challenge under Section 3.

All nine justices agreed that is the purview of Congress. But a narrower majority of five went further, ruling it can only be done through legislation. That exposes significant splits underneath the unanimous majority, and points toward the greatest uncertainty the ruling creates.


One possible outcome that the case presented was the prospect of unelected judges disqualifying the man dominating who has already received hundreds of thousands of votes in the nominating process.

But another potential nightmare is that if Congress is the only entity that can determine whether a presidential hopeful is indeed disqualified for engaging in “insurrection,” that it makes that determination on Jan. 6, 2025, when required to certify a possible Trump victory in the presidential election.

The high court shut down the first possibility, but may have left the door open to the second one. The five-justice majority — all from the court’s conservative wing — said Congress can implement Section 3 through legislation, “subject of course to judicial review.” (That means the court reserves for itself the right to have the final say.)

That triggered a dissent from the court’s three liberals, who complained that that “shuts the door on other potential means of federal enforcement.”

That would appear to include a rejection of Trump’s electors should he win the election — but multiple legal experts said Monday that it wasn’t that clear, and the only way to know may be for Congress to try.


The 14th Amendment case is one of two putting the high court squarely in the midst of the ongoing presidential election. Last week, the court agreed to hear Trump’s appeal of a federal ruling that he’s not entitled to immunity from criminal charges for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump’s trial on those charges was originally scheduled to begin Monday, but has been postponed because of the battle over his immunity challenge. The high court taking up his appeal in late April raises the possibility that trial won’t conclude until after the presidential election.

The justices’ discomfort over being put in the middle of the nation’s partisan divide came through in a brief, but notable, concurring opinion by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Though one of the court’s conservatives, she didn’t agree with the majority’s ruling that Congress can only enforce Section 3 through legislation. But she didn’t want to sign onto the liberals’ dissent, either, instead warning against focusing too much on partisan divisions.

“…this is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency,” Barrett wrote. “The Court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election. Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up.”

“For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case,” she concluded. “That is the message Americans should take home.”


The court’s ruling shuts off using Section 3 against federal officials absent action by Congress but it leaves open the ability of states to use the provision against their own state officials, noting there’s a rich record after the Civil War of just those sorts of actions.

That’s already begun anew in the post-Jan. 6 era. The first disqualification under Section 3 in more than a century came in 2022, when a New Mexico court removed Couy Griffin, who was convicted of entering the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 while leading a group called “Cowboys for Trump,” from his rural county commission.

The group that brought that case, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, next filed the Colorado case against Trump. They said they were eager to continue filing Section 3 cases against lower-level Jan. 6 participants.


Few observers expected the Supreme Court to keep Trump off the ballot. But he’s facing far more perilous legal road ahead.

The first of Trump’s criminal trials, for allegedly falsifying business records to pay hush money to an adult film actress during the 2016 presidential campaign, is scheduled to start in New York later this month. The former president is also appealing a New York judge’s ruling that he pay $355 million for fraud committed by his businesses, and verdict that he pay a writer $83 million for defaming her after she sued him for sexual assault.

Depending on how and how quickly the high court rules on Trump’s immunity claim, he could still face charges for trying to overturn the 2020 election in Washington DC before this November’s election.

Two more cases are more likely to come later – in Atlanta where Trump faces state charges for his 2020 election plot, and in Florida where he’s tentatively scheduled for a May trial on improper retention of classified documents after leaving the presidency, but the trial date is expected to be postponed.

Monday was a win Trump needed to continue his campaign, but his days in court are far from over.