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History As It Happens

Feb 6, 2024

Distinguished historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras have submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court explaining the meaning of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. It is unambiguous and self-executing: Anyone who violates his or her oath by engaging in insurrection is barred from holding public office again. It is not necessary to be formally charged with insurrection to be disqualified. On Feb. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a Colorado case that resulted in Donald Trump's disqualification from that state's ballot. Challenges to Trump’s eligibility are currently pending in 11 other states. In this episode, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz contends that Trump should be disqualified based on an originalist rendering of Section 3. Wilentz rejects the notion that disqualifying Trump will damage democracy when the GOP frontrunner has made clear that he intends to eviscerate the country's democratic institutions upon returning to the White House.