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Supreme Court seems skeptical of kicking Trump off election ballot during landmark hearing: Full coverage

The case stems from the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that Donald Trump couldn't appear on the ballot this fall.

Image of Donald Trump superimposed over image of Supreme Court building.
Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The United States Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments in a landmark case that will decide whether former President Donald Trump is ineligible to run for a second term in office because of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which culminated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Throughout the hearing, however, both liberal and conservative justices seemed highly skeptical of the decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to remove Trump from state ballots based on its reading of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars those who have taken an oath of office and later "engaged in insurrection" from holding office gain.

Trump appealed the Colorado ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing that Section 3 doesn't apply to presidents and that Congress, not the states or courts, is the only body that can remove candidates from ballots.

LIVE COVERAGE IS OVER21 updates
  • Trump reacts to oral arguments

    Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago
    Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago Thursday. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

    Speaking to reporters at Mar-a-Lago shortly after court adjourned, Trump gave his response to Thursday's oral arguments, calling the case before the court "election interference."

    "It's more election interference by the Democrats — that's what they're doing," Trump said before boasting that he is currently "leading in virtually every poll" in the Republican primary.

    The former president also falsely stated that there were "no guns" involved during the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. Numerous Trump supporters were charged with firearms possession on federal property that day.

  • Court is adjourned

    After what seemed like a tough two hours of arguments for lawyers for the plaintiffs seeking to uphold a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to bar Trump from state ballots, the United States Supreme Court adjourned early Thursday afternoon.

    As even liberal court watchers seemed to agree, the high court seems unlikely to allow the Colorado decision to stand.

    NYU law professor and MSNBC commentator Andrew Weissmann said in a post on X that the court's decision would likely not even be close.

  • Justices seem skeptical that the 14th Amendment bars Trump from running

    The U.S. Supreme Court.
    The U.S. Supreme Court. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

    Throughout oral arguments Thursday, both conservative and liberal Supreme Court justices voiced skepticism that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment could be used to justify Trump's removal from ballots in Colorado or other states.

    Like several conservative justices, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pressed plaintiffs' lawyer Jason Murray on whether Section 3 applied to presidents.

    "Why didn't they put the word 'president' in the very enumerated list in Section 3? The thing that really is troubling to me is, I totally understand your argument that they were listing people that were barred and president is not there," Jackson said.

    Earlier, Justice Elena Kagan questioned Murray on the idea that a single state could block a federal candidate from appearing on a ballot.

    "I think that the question you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States," Kagan said.

    Justice Brett Kavanaugh questioned Murray on who decides what constitutes "engaged in insurrection," the wording of Section 3 that disqualifies those who have taken an oath of office from holding office again.

    Chief Justice John Roberts called the idea that individual states could be allowed to block a candidate from appearing on a ballot while others left that person on them "a daunting prospect."

    In all, it seemed to be tough going for Murray, indicating that the court may be unlikely to allow the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court barring Trump from the ballot in that state to stand.

  • Conservative justices snap at plaintiffs' lawyer

    Justice Neil Gorsuch.
    Justice Neil Gorsuch. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

    Justices Alito and Gorsuch grew testy with lawyer Jason Murray's arguments before the court, often rebuking him in sharp terms.

    In an exchange about the consequences of Colorado removing Trump from ballots, Alito snapped at Murray: "You're not answering my question. It's not helpful when you do that."

    As the exchange continued, Alito quipped: "I'm not getting a whole lot of help from you about this will be an unmanageable situation."

    Gorsuch was equally biting during a back-and-forth on a hypothetical question on ballot eligibility that Murray sought to reframe.

    "I'm not gonna say it again, put it aside," Gorsuch told Murray. "I think Justice Alito is asking a very different question, a more pointed one, a more difficult one for you, I understand, but I think it deserves an answer."

    Murray persisted with his own hypothetical about whether a presidential candidate might be eligible to run for office at the age of 24 so long as they turned 25 before being inaugurated.

    "No, no, no, no," an irritated Gorsuch interrupted. "Please don't change the hypothetical. OK. Please don't change the hypothetical. I know I like doing it too. But please don't do it."

  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh: Who decides if a person 'engaged in insurrection'?

    Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
    Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    During lawyer Jason Murray's presentation, Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked a question central to whether Section 3 can be used to block a person who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office: How does one decide what rises to that standard?

    “When you look at Section 3, the term ‘insurrection’ jumps out, and the question is, the questions are: What does that mean? How do you define it? Who decides, who decides whether someone engaged in it? What processes, as Justice Barrett alluded to, what processes are appropriate for figuring out whether someone did engage in that?” Kavanaugh asked.

    Murray’s response: “Well, certainly, Justice Kavanaugh, there has to be some process for determining those questions. And then the question becomes, does anything in the 14th Amendment say that only Congress can create that process, and Section 5 very clearly is not an exclusive provision. It says Congress shall have power.”

  • Justice Elena Kagan seems skeptical that individual states have the right to block candidates from ballot

    Justice Elena Kagan.
    Justice Elena Kagan. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

    In a notable exchange, Justice Elena Kagan pressed plaintiffs’ lawyer Jason Murray on whether individual states should be allowed to block a candidate for federal office from appearing on a ballot.

    “I think that the question you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States,” Kagan said.

    Murray responded: “Ultimately it’s up to this court to decide the question of federal constitutional eligibility, and settle the question for the nation.”

    “I guess I was asking you to go a little bit further,” Kagan continued, “and say why should a single state have the ability to make this determination not only for their citizens but for the rest of the nation?”

    “Because Article 2 gives them the power to appoint their own electors as they see fit. But if they’re going to use a federal constitutional qualification as a valid access determinate, then it’s creating a federal constitutional question that this court decides,” Murray said.

  • Trump lawyer: Jan. 6 was a riot — not an insurrection

    Trump’s lawyer Jonathan Mitchell is now arguing that there was no insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Mitchell: For an insurrection there needs to be an organized, concerted effort to overthrow the government of the United States through violence.

    Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson: And so the point is that a chaotic effort to overthrow the government is not an insurrection?

    Mitchell: We didn’t concede that it was an effort to overthrow the government either, Justice Jackson. None of these criteria were met. This was a riot. It was not an insurrection. The events were shameful, criminal, violent, all of those things, but did not qualify as an insurrection as that term is used in Section 3.

  • Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson zeroes in on what 'officer of the United States' means

    Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in September 2022.
    Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in September 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

    Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson took on Trump’s lawyer’s argument that “the president isn’t an officer of the United States.”

    Brown noted that Section 3 does not exempt presidents or vice presidents.

    “Do you agree that the framers would have put such a high and significant and important office sort of smuggled in through that catchall phrase?” Brown asked Jonathan Mitchell.

    Mitchell argues that while Trump did take an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, he was not technically “an officer of the United States” as defined by Section 3.

  • Is Trump an insurrectionist?

    As the arguments about whether the 14th Amendment prohibits Trump from ever holding office again, the question of whether he “engaged in insurrection” was brought front and center to the nation.

  • Alito seems to signal Section 3 doesn't prohibit Trump from running for office

    Supreme Court justices sit for a group photo.
    Justice Samuel Alito, center, in a group photo of the nation’s highest court in October 2022. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images)

    Justice Samuel Alito seemed to share the view of Trump’s lawyer that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prevents a person who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again, but not from running for office.

    “Section 3 refers to the holding of office, not running for office. And so, if a state or Congress were to go further and say that, ‘You can’t run for the office. You can’t compete in a primary,’ wouldn’t that be adding an additional qualification for serving for president? You must have been free from this disqualification at an earlier point in time than Section 3 specifies,” Alito said during arguments.

  • What does Section 5 of the 14th Amendment say?

    Here is the text (via the Library of Congress):

    The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

    Trump’s lawyer is arguing that the former president never “engaged in an insurrection” — which would disqualify him from running for president, under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. But even if he did, the argument before the court is whether Section 5 means that only Congress can enact legislation that would effectively bar a person from holding office again.

  • Some Democrats want Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself

    A billboard calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself reads: Justice Thomas, recuse yourself now!
    A billboard calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from all cases related to the events on Jan. 6, 2021, is seen in Washington. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for MoveOn)

    Citing his wife’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, some Democratic lawmakers have called for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from today’s arguments on whether the 14th Amendment bars Trump from holding office again.

    In the weeks following the 2020 election, Thomas pressured Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Arizona lawmakers to reject the election results showing that Biden had defeated Trump in battleground states.

    “Given questions surrounding his wife’s involvement, Justice Thomas should recuse himself so there’s no question of bias,” Sen. Dick Durbin wrote in a post Wednesday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

    In January, eight House Democrats wrote in a letter that, given his wife’s advocacy for challenging the election results, Thomas should step aside rather than create an appearance of conflict.

    “Your wife’s activities raise serious questions about your ability to be or even to appear impartial in any cases before the Supreme Court involving the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection,” the letter said.

    Read more at USA Today.

  • Justice Thomas asks the first question

    Justice Clarence Thomas is seen in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building.
    Justice Clarence Thomas is seen in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

    Justice Clarence Thomas asked the first question during Thursday's arguments on whether the 14th Amendment bars Trump from holding office again.

    He asked Trump’s lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell, whether Section 3 was “self-executing.” In other words, is any other action from Congress necessary to find that it disqualifies anyone who “engaged in insurrection” from ever again holding office.

    “It is entirely self-enforcing, Justice Thomas,” Mitchell replied.

  • The 5 arguments Trump’s lawyers will make before the Supreme Court

    Then-President Donald Trump at a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, protesting Joe Biden's 2020 election win.
    Trump during a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, protesting Joe Biden's 2020 election victory. (Evan Vucci, File/AP)

    Trump’s lawyers are expected to highlight at least five main points to argue that the high court should overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment requires removing Trump from state ballots.

    According to USA Today, they are:

    • The president is not an “officer of the United States”

    • Trump did not “engage in insurrection”

    • Only Congress should decide how Section 3 can be enforced

    • Section 3 only prohibits someone from holding office, not running for office

    • Colorado law doesn’t allow the state to order Trump’s removal

    Read more at USA Today.

  • Trump plans to stay away from Supreme Court

    Trump listens to closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York last month.
    Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York on Jan. 11. (Shannon Stapleton/AP)

    While Trump has made a habit of turning his recent court appearances into circus-like campaign stops, the former president is not expected to attend Thursday's oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

    CNN reports that Trump will instead spend the day at Mar-a-Lago in Florida before traveling to a Nevada caucus victory party in Las Vegas.

    “Trump’s decision not to attend the historic Supreme Court arguments in the case — which would determine his ballot eligibility nationwide — is an indication of how carefully his team is handling the case before the court,” the network noted, adding that an appearance by the former president “could be considered disruptive to the normally staid and above-the-fray decorum of the Supreme Court.”

  • Protesters seen outside the Supreme Court this morning

    Demonstrators were outside the court on Thursday morning, holding signs that read, “Trump is a traitor” and “Will supreme injustice be the law of the land?”

    A protester holds a sign that reads, “Trump is a traitor.”
    A protester holding a sign outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday. (Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images)
    Protesters demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 8, 2024.
    Protesters outside of the nation’s highest court on Thursday morning. (Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images)
    A protester holding a sign that reads, “Will supreme injustice be the law of the land?”
    Donald Trump was not expected to appear at the Supreme Court on Thursday. (Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images)
  • What does Section 3 of the 14th Amendment say?

    Here is the text (via the Library of Congress):

    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.

  • What to watch (or listen) for

    A picture of Donald Trump against a backdrop of an image of the Supreme Court.
    (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    The Supreme Court proceedings on Thursday will be historic. Just how historic?

    “It will be the first time that Trump's status, or that of any presidential candidate, will be considered under this 'insurrection' constitutional clause at the nation’s highest court,” ABC News explains:

    The landmark case began in September in Colorado, when a group of six Republican and unaffiliated voters represented by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a challenge against Trump and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat who oversees the primary election process in the state.

    Their lawsuit centered on Section 3, a rarely-invoked, Civil War-era clause that states that someone isn’t eligible for future office if, while they were in office, they took an oath to support the Constitution but then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof,” unless they are granted amnesty by a two-thirds vote of Congress.

    Read more from ABC News here.

  • Why a ruling could come soon

    Trump supporters gather at a rally in Washington hours before the assault on the Capitol.
    Trump supporters at a rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, hours before the assault on the Capitol. (John Minchillo/AP)

    Given that the case involves whether a leading candidate of a major political party is eligible to be president, the Supreme Court scheduled a special session to hear Thursday’s arguments. And, as the Associated Press explains, a ruling “is possible, if not likely” to come soon:

    The case, to be argued Thursday, stems from a section of the 14th Amendment that's meant to keep former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from regaining power.

    The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump should be disqualified because of his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

    Trump appealed to the nation's highest court, and both sides agreed that the justices should take up the case and issue a conclusive ruling soon.

    The court is moving much faster than usual in scheduling arguments, so a decision relatively soon is possible, if not likely.

    Read more from the AP here.

  • The lawyers who will argue Trump’s Supreme Court Colorado ballot case

    Lawyers Jonathan Mitchell, left, and Jason Murray.
    Jonathan Mitchell, left, and Jason Murray. (Law.com and Olson Grimsley).

    The Washington Post has some good background on the two lead lawyers who will be arguing the case in front of the Supreme Court.

    • Jonathan Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general, will be representing Trump. Mitchell is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School who served as a law clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Per the Post, he is “perhaps best known as one of the architects of a novel Texas law that empowers private citizens, rather than state officials, to enforce abortion restrictions, by suing individuals who help women obtain abortions after about six weeks into pregnancy.”

    • Jason Murray, a former trial lawyer, is representing the Colorado voters that brought the original lawsuit that is now before the court. Murray, a graduate of Harvard Law School, served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as well as for Justice Neil Gorsuch when Gorsuch was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. “In 2017, Murray wrote an opinion piece in support of Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch,” the paper noted.

  • The Supreme Court justices that will hear the Trump case

    Justices of the Supreme Court pose for their official photo in Washington.
    Justices of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 7, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

    The nation's high court is made up of nine justices, three of whom were nominated by then-President Donald Trump. And the 6-3 conservative majority is as follows:

    • Chief Justice John Roberts, 69, nominated by George W. Bush

    • Justice Samuel Alito, 73, nominated by George W. Bush

    • Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 59, nominated by Donald Trump

    • Justice Amy Coney Barrett, 52, nominated by Donald Trump

    • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 69, nominated by Barack Obama

    • Justice Neil Gorsuch, 56, nominated by Donald Trump

    • Justice Clarence Thomas, 75, nominated by George H.W. Bush

    • Justice Elena Kagan, 63, nominated by Barack Obama

    • Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, 53, nominated by Joe Biden