In recent political developments, a close associate of previous President Donald Trump has sent a firm message to states considering his exclusion from the 2024 presidential race. They need to bear in mind that the ultimate decision on verifying their electors post the forthcoming election rests with the House of Representatives.
‘Consider this: any state contemplating bureaucratic ways to deny the Republican candidate ballot access should think twice, given that the U.S. House of Representatives has the final authority to approve the electors from such states,’ is the chastening reminder offered by Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). It was X Friday when Massie shared this post, to which Elon Musk, owner of X, responded intriguingly with a single word, ‘Interesting.’
Massie’s stern alert follows hot on the heels of recent decisions by the Colorado Supreme Court and Maine’s Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows. Both regions have taken steps to veto Trump’s appearance on their individual state ballots in the coming year. Invoking alleged constitutional infringements, the officials highlight an ‘insurrection’ charge, an accusation not currently backed by any active litigation or convictions against Trump.
This unprecedented move ignites debate among legal practitioners across the political spectrum. Leading voices anticipate that such actions in Colorado and Maine will probably be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. These include notable pundits such as Elie Honig, the erstwhile federal prosecutor turned chief legal analyst for CNN.
On a Friday program, Honig publicly criticised Secretary Bellows. Accusing Bellows of grounding her decision to remove Trump from Maine’s ballot on a haphazard mix of ‘YouTube clips, news reports,’ and other sources that would not ordinarily pass muster in a court of law.
Dissecting the situation, CNN’s anchor John Berman asked Honig, ‘The 14th Amendment, Section 3, does say explicitly that anyone who has taken part in insurrection cannot hold office. Doesn’t this mean that if Bellows concludes that Trump was involved in insurrection, he’s disqualified from the Maine primary ballot? Is the equation that straightforward?’
Exuding confidence, Honig was quick to retort, ‘No, it’s not quite that elementary.’ Explaining further, he clarified, ‘Section 3 of the 14th Amendment indeed stipulates, ‘Engage in insurrection, and you’re out.’ No contention there. The complexity lies in determining who has the authority to make that call and what the due process ought to be.’
Continuing his analysis, Honig emphasized that Bellows had largely based her ruling on the legal precedent set by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision earlier that week. She stated explicitly in her ruling that if Colorado’s stance were to be overturned, Maine would also find itself in a difficult position. This indicates that she relied heavily on the same legal argument.
Presenting the several facets of this complex matter, Honig shares, ‘Let’s delineate the points both parties are making. We’re theorizing at this point since this is legally uncharted territory. On the one hand, it’s argued that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment grants Congress the power to enact laws in accordance with this. Congress has indeed done so, implying that Congress, not the states, ought to make the decision.’
On the other hand, Honig pointed out, ‘Perhaps, state administrators, like the Secretary of State for Maine and Colorado, can assert that they too possess the authority to enact such laws. If this holds true, the next question is whether the hearings conducted were fair and in accordance with due process.’
Casting doubt on the proceedings in Maine, Honig continued, ‘One can argue against the fairness of the hearings conducted in Maine. They only spoke to one key witness, a law professor. Bellows’ ruling drew heavily from an array of documents, including YouTube clips and news reports, which would not meet the standard of evidence in a court setting.’
He also questioned Bellows’s credentials, noting ‘Surprisingly, she lacks a legal background. While the decision appears judiciously penned and undoubtedly supported by expert legal advisors, she is an appointee selected by the state legislature, rather than a democratically elected official.’
Later in the discussion, Honig predicted, ‘I am fairly certain the Supreme Court will take up this case. The latest ruling greatly reinforces this possibility.’ He foresaw that the Supreme Court is less likely to pass judgement on whether Trump incited an ‘insurrection’, focusing instead on the ability of individual states to exclude him from the presidential ballot.
Thus, this crucial legal dispute serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance of power within the American political system. While it remains unclear how the Supreme Court will rule, the outcome will have profound implications for candidates and voters alike. The eventual verdict will inevitably reflect our nation’s commitment to democratic values, the constitutionality of certain actions, and the due process of law.
The case highlights the complex interplay between state powers and federal law and stirs a variety of interpretations within our political landscape. The fallout of this case could well rewrite the playbook for political manoeuvering, prompting further reflection on the nature and limits of our democratic process.