Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on Colorado ballot in historic 14th Amendment case

The unanimous decision will have major implications for the presidential race.

March 4, 2024, 4:06 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of Donald Trump in a historic case challenging his eligibility to seek the Republican presidential nomination under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment due to his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The court was unanimous in reversing the unprecedented decision out of Colorado that would kick Trump off the ballot under the provision after a state trial court found he participated in "insurrection" on Jan. 6 through incitement.

“For the reasons given, responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States," the unsigned Supreme Court opinion read. "The judgment of the Colorado Supreme Court therefore cannot stand. All nine Members of the Court agree with that result.”

PHOTO: Donald Trump speaks at a "Get Out the Vote" Rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024.
Donald Trump speaks at a "Get Out the Vote" Rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024.
Julia Nikhinson/AFP via Getty Images

In holding that only Congress had the power to enforce the provisions under Section 5 of the amendment, it said its decision would apply to federal offices nationwide.

"This case raises the question whether the States, in addition to Congress, may also enforce Section 3," the decision read. "We conclude that States may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency."

The justices further said the idea that individual states can decide how the section is used with respect to federal offices is "simply implausible" and could result in an unworkable "patchwork" where a candidate could be ineligible in one state but not another.

"Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos -- arriving at any time or different times, up to and perhaps beyond the Inauguration," the decision read.

The decision ensures that Trump will remain on the ballot as Republican presidential nominee in all 50 states, effectively ending a constitutional attack on his candidacy that had been pushed by conservative legal scholars and backed by some Democrats.

Trump quickly celebrated the ruling, writing on his social media platform it was a "BIG WIN" for the country.

“It was a very important decision, very well-crafted. And I think it will go a long way toward bringing our country together," he said later in remarks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

He added, "The voters can take the person out … but a court shouldn't be doing that. And the Supreme Court said that very well."

The decision came one day before voters in Colorado go to the polls on Super Tuesday. Trump is on the GOP primary ballot in the state.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said her state should be able to decide who qualifies when it comes to presidential candidates.

"I am disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision stripping states of the authority to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment for federal candidates," she said in a statement. "Colorado should be able to bar oath-breaking [insurrectionists] from our ballot."

PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP

The three liberal justices -- Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson -- in a concurring opinion, said while they agreed the Colorado decision couldn’t stand, they were at odds with the court's majority over their determination that only Congress can enforce Section 3.

Allowing Colorado to keep Trump off the ballot, they agreed, would "create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles. That is enough to resolve this case."

"Yet the majority goes further," the liberal justices wrote. “They decide novel constitutional questions to insulate this Court and petitioner from future controversy."

“The majority announces that a disqualification for insurrection can occur only when Congress enacts a particular kind of legislation pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment,” they continued. “In doing so, the majority shuts the door on other potential means of federal enforcement. We cannot join an opinion that decides momentous and difficult issues unnecessarily, and we therefore concur only in the judgment.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative appointed by Trump, held a similar view in her own brief concurring opinion.

"I agree that States lack the power to enforce Section 3 against Presidential candidates," she wrote. "That principle is sufficient to resolve this case, and I would decide no more than that. This suit was brought by Colorado voters under state law in state court. It does not require us to address the complicated question whether federal legislation is the exclusive vehicle through which Section 3 can be enforced."

But Barrett also sought to stress the court's unanimous agreement, saying now is not the time for strident disagreement.

"The Court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election," she wrote. "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. That is the message Americans should take home."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington President Noah Bookbinder, whose group assisted the Colorado voters in pursuing the case against Trump, said the Supreme Court did not clear Trump.

“While the Supreme Court allowed Donald Trump back on the ballot on technical legal grounds, this was in no way a win for Trump. The Supreme Court had the opportunity in this case to exonerate Trump, and they chose not to do so," he said.

"Every court–or decision-making body–that has substantively examined the issue has determined that January 6th was an insurrection and that Donald Trump incited it. That remains true today. The Supreme Court removed an enforcement mechanism, and in letting Trump back on the ballot, they failed to meet the moment. But it is now clear that Trump led the January 6th insurrection, and it will be up to the American people to ensure accountability,” his statement said.

- ABC News' Isabella Murray and Soorin Kim contributed to this report.

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