For a long time the Twitter pundits (and to a lesser extent the cable news pundits) have been telling us that the courts were going to remove Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot because he’s “disqualified” under the 14th Amendment. I’ve tried to explain along the way that the courts simply don’t read the 14th Amendment in that way, and that these cases were very likely doomed. Even in the unlikely event that they got favorable initial rulings in Minnesota and Colorado, they’d never survive this Supreme Court. Now it turns out this movement isn’t even winning the initial rulings.
Earlier this month the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Trump is not disqualified from the 2024 primary ballot, but declined to answer the question of whether he should be removed from the general election ballot. The people who have been hyping the “14th Amendment” thing took this loss and spun it as a win, and then promised us that they’d still win in Colorado.
But now the Colorado courts have ruled yesterday that while Trump did incite an insurrection, it’s not grounds for removing him from the ballot. This is roughly what I was expecting. And in spite of all the face-saving spin we’re now seeing about the ruling, it’s the worst case scenario. The courts are saying ‘yes we agree that he did all these things, we just don’t think the 14th Amendment says what you think it says.’ Which isn’t surprising because this is how the courts have been interpreting the 14th Amendment in every case that’s come up in recent years.
If the Colorado courts had said that Trump didn’t incite an insurrection, that would have been a factually wrong ruling, and it would have been easier to appeal based on all the evidence that he did incite one. But this ruling, which correctly acknowledges all the facts against Trump, makes it almost impossible to win any appeal.
As I’ve said from the start, it doesn’t matter what you or I or the plaintiffs or the Twitter pundits think the 14th Amendment says. It only matters what the courts think it says. And the courts have already shown us that they don’t read it the way you do.
We can perhaps take a minor political victory from this, in that the courts just ruled (again) that Trump incited an insurrection. But I’m not sure how many persuadable minds that’s going to change, given the obscurity of this case, and the fact that we lost the overall ruling. This simply isn’t shaping up to be a legal victory or a political victory.
On the whole, this “Trump is going to be magically removed from the ballot under the 14th Amendment” thing was always a pipe dream. The courts just don’t see it the way the Twitter pundits do. Any favorable ruling was never going to survive this Supreme Court. And all the rulings are going the wrong way anyway.
This is all a pretty basic legal concept, and once you set aside the internet hyperbole, it’s not difficult to understand. For instance I think the 2nd Amendment clearly prohibits private gun ownership. The wording couldn’t be any more clear to me. But that doesn’t count for anything, because the courts don’t read it the way I read it. I can file all the cases I want, and I can convince a bunch of people on Twitter that it reads the way I read it, and we can come up with whatever slogans we want, and we can spend all day every day reassuring each other that victory is guaranteed, but none of that is going to cause the courts to suddenly decide that the 2nd Amendment says what we think it says. Getting things trending on Twitter is not in any way a persuasive legal argument once you have to go into the real world and go into court.
It’s the same when it comes to the court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Remember all that hype about getting Marjorie Taylor Greene removed from the 2022 ballot? That died in court. The courts couldn’t be any more clear that they don’t read the 14th Amendment in the same way political Twitter does. And since there’s never been any plan for getting the courts to actually change what they think the 14th Amendment says, there’s never been any hope for this case.
I don’t know if the legal pundits on Twitter have been intentionally overhyping this pipe dream for attention, or if they’ve just gotten caught up in the internet hype surrounding it. But when the courts agree with your every factual point and then tell you that the law and the constitution simply don’t read the way you think they do, that’s the worst kind of loss. The positive spin about this ruling is absurd.
Meanwhile back in the real world, we’re a few months away from a federal court criminally convicting Donald Trump for an insurrection and sentencing him to prison. If you’re looking for a victory from the courts regarding Trump trying to overthrow the government, with a devastating impact on Trump’s political viability, there it is – in plain sight.
But political Twitter is all about ignoring what’s obvious and really going on, and instead trying to look smart and clever by hyping some other thing that isn’t really a thing. So it isn’t surprising that the “14th Amendment” pipe dream is still alive and well on here in spite of losing in both states where the hypers insisted it would win. This was never a reality based movement, it was only about getting to feel clever and smart and righteous. So I guess it doesn’t matter that this movement is now losing badly in real world courts. None of this “Trump is magically disqualified” internet chanting was ever connected to reality.
It’s just so obvious that the real impact on Trump and 2024 will come from his criminal trials. But it’s hard for Twitter pundits to look smart and clever by talking about the obvious thing that everyone already knows about. So the pipe dream hype about the 14th Amendment, and whatever pipe dream the Twitter pundits come up with next in order to look clever, will continue unabated.
I know that even if the folks who bought into the “Trump is magically disqualified” are now ready to admit defeat, they’re just going to shift to angry “why do we even have a constitution if we can’t use it” ranting. But that’s not what happened here. They allowed a bunch of Twitter pundits to convince them that something was going to magically happen if they believed in it hard enough, while ignoring the fact that the courts simply don’t interpret the 14th Amendment that way.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report