Photo: Dana Verkouteren via Associated Press Jonathan Mitchell arguing on behalf of former President Donald Trump before the United States Supreme Court, February 8, 2024
Sélim Saheb Ettaba – Agence France-Presse in Washington
- United States
Do Donald Trump's actions during the storming of the Capitol make him ineligible ? The justices of the US Supreme Court appeared Thursday keen to defuse this explosive question by raising multiple objections to the disqualification of the ex-president.
With less than nine months before the presidential election, the arch-favorite of the Republican primaries requests the annulment of the decision in December of the Colorado courts ordering his withdrawal from the ballots in this western state of the country.
Legal commentators argue about the validity as well as the political expediency of such a procedure. But everyone agrees that the court with a conservative majority, burned by its controversial decision in 2000 giving victory to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, is keen to avoid being open to suspicions of electoral interference.
For nearly two hours, most of the judges, regardless of their orientation, were careful not to venture into the minefield of qualifying the actions of Donald Trump during the assault on the Capitol , but insisted on the legal obstacles and the potential fallout from confirming the Colorado decision.
In this hypothesis, the President of the Court, the conservative John Roberts, was concerned about a possible chain reaction in which the states controlled by the Republicans would in turn disqualify the Democratic candidate.
“A handful of states would find themselves deciding the outcome of the presidential election. “That would be a particularly frightening consequence,” he said.
“Why should a single state decide who will be president of the United States?” progressive Justice Elena Kagan also objected.
Of the thirty states in which ineligibility appeals were brought against Donald Trump, only two were successful, in Colorado and Maine. Several States are nevertheless waiting for the Supreme Court to rule definitively.
Trump's lawyers call the Colorado ruling an “anomaly” and call on the Supreme Court to overturn it to “protect the rights of tens of millions of Americans who want to vote for President Trump.”
Colorado's decision declaring Donald Trump ineligible under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution amounts to imposing an “additional condition” for running, his lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell, argued before the court.< /p>
This amendment, adopted in 1868, then targeted supporters of the Southern Confederacy defeated during the Civil War (1861-1865). It excludes from the highest public offices anyone who has engaged in acts of “rebellion” after taking an oath to defend the Constitution.
The Colorado courts considered that Donald Trump's actions on January 6, 2021 fell within the 14th Amendment.
That day, hundreds of supporters of the outgoing president, heated in particular by his unfounded allegations of electoral fraud, stormed the Capitol, the sanctuary of American democracy, in an attempt to y prevent the certification of the victory of his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
The person reaffirmed Thursday that he had nothing to reproach himself for his actions during the assault on the Capitol and said he would “refer” to the Supreme Court, hoping that the arguments of his lawyers would be heard.
“Remove Trump” and “Trump led a conspiracy” could be read on posters brandished Thursday by demonstrators Thursday in front of the Supreme Court.
The largely unprecedented nature of the case complicates any prediction, but many experts believe the nine judges are tempted to find a “loophole” to keep Donald Trump's name on the ballot.
“In such a politically hot case, the court wants to appear as apolitical as possible,” Steven Schwinn, professor of constitutional law at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told AFP.
“The most likely escape route for her would be to assert that only Congress has the authority to remove a candidate from the presidential election ballot,” she adds.
An argument invoked by Donald Trump's lawyers, but contested by jurists who emphasize that no intervention from Congress is required to apply other eligibility conditions, such as the minimum age of candidates or their place of birth.
Three renowned jurists from different political backgrounds urged in a brief the nine judges to rule on the merits and not on questions of form, in order to definitively cut the Gordian knot before voting day, on November 5.
Otherwise, “with a country more polarized than ever in recent history”, warn Edward Foley, Benjamin Ginsberg and Richard Hasen, “to take the risk of political instability not seen since the war of Secession.”