Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment was originally intended to keep former Confederate officials from gaining power in the reconstructed government following the Civil War. Known as the "disqualification clause," this section was fairly obscure until January 6, 2021, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol building.
The Fourteenth Amendment is better known for protecting civil rights. It grants citizenship to all people born in the United States, guarantees equal protection of privileges and immunities of citizens, and requires due process of law. But the events of January 6th brought the disqualification clause into the spotlight.
Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3:
"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."
What does the Constitution say about insurrection?
Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits anyone who has previously taken an oath of office (Senators, Representatives, and other public officials) from holding public office if they have "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States. This means, at least theoretically, that politicians who participate in or encourage a rebellion against the government can not only be removed from office but prevented from holding state and federal offices in the future. However, how disqualification works under the 14th Amendment has never been clear.
Could the disqualification clause prevent Donald Trump from running for president in 2024?
Theoretically, yes. Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to disqualify someone who has already held a public office from holding "any office" if they participate in an "insurrection or rebellion" against the United States.
But since this mechanism has never been used against a president, there are still questions to resolve. The disqualification clause applies to current and former federal officials, state officials, and military officials. However, legal scholars are split on whether the disqualification clause applies to the presidency. It's likely the 14th Amendment will continue to come up in conversations approaching the 2024 presidential election.
Is disqualification different than impeachment?
Yes. Someone who is impeached could be disqualified from holding public office in the future if they are convicted, and Congress applies such a punishment. But this is separate from disqualification under the 14th Amendment. Under Sections 3 and 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress could bar someone from holding office. But unlike an impeachment conviction, that decision could be overturned by the courts. Most importantly, under the 14th Amendment, disqualification requires only a simple majority vote, not the two-thirds vote needed to convict during an impeachment trial.