Will the Supreme Court rescue Trump's presidential bid?

The US has been gripped by a Constitutional case that could have a big bearing on the election with a looming ruling a national issue. It has major implications for America’s divisive politics. 

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, on February 17, 2024.
Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, on February 17, 2024.

Will the Supreme Court rescue Trump's presidential bid?

A hearing at the United States Supreme Court gripped the country in early February, as lawyers for Colorado were defending a decision there to exclude Donald Trump’s name from ballot papers in the general election due in November.

Despite the media's restricted access inside the court, the case took top billing on news channels and across social media because it could affect the former president’s bid to return to the White House.

The case details were widely debated in the run-up to the hearing: Trump is accused of sedition over the 6 January disorder in Washington, when his supporters marched on the Capitol in an attempt to prevent certification of the results of the last presidential election, which Trump lost.

However, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on that fateful day, few could predict that this would lead to a court case that could prevent the former American president from running again.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Colorado — which has leaned toward the Democratic Party for two decades — argues that the incident is enough to remove Trump from the state ballot.

The legal means for this are grounded in the third clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868, three years after the American Civil War ended in victory for the northern states of the union.

It was designed to disqualify officials in the southern states – which had seceded from the Union and declared independence, leading to the Civil War – from standing for election. The clause targets those who broke oaths to uphold the US and its Constitution from running in elections.

The Supreme Court’s looming ruling will have implications for the political process, from which the top judicial branch of government usually stands apart.

When Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, few could have predicted that this would lead to a court case that could prevent him from running again.

Political advantage concerns

The justices' questions and comments revealed their concern about it providing a political advantage for President Biden in the election. 

There is concern that a ruling in favour of Colorado could, in effect, sideline Trump. The ramifications run beyond the individual state, which is unlikely to support him. Other states could use the case as a precedent. 

The justices seemed concerned that the case could inadvertently stifle democratic competition and disenfranchise pro-Trump voters. The sense of caution over their deliberations points to the feeling of the court that voters rather than lawyers should determine the outcome of the race. 

There are wider fears that barring Trump from standing will worsen already bitter political divisions in the US, reinforcing claims from the candidate and his supporters the system is rigged against the former president. 

Any such disqualification could also spark a political realignment in the Republican Party, away from Trump's hard-right ideology and toward its more traditional conservative roots. It would leave Nikki Haley as the only candidate for the party's nomination for the presidential race. 

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the 2023 First in the Nation Leadership Summit on October 13, 2023, in Nashua, New Hampshire.

That would probably be welcomed by a significant portion of moderate Republicans who are distanced from the Christian right and white nationalist factions that back Trump.

Close race

Opinion polls imply that Haley has a better chance of beating Biden than Trump. A January survey into a race between Haley and Biden put her support at 53% and his at 45%. For a Trump-versus-Biden run, the outcome was narrower, at 50% to 48% respectively, within the margin of error for the poll. 

Haley's electoral appeal extends beyond the traditional Republican base, attracting independents reluctant to support Trump due to his polarising politics. These voters prefer Biden, not out of political alignment but as a lesser-of-two-evils choice against Trump.

While any move to bar the former president from the race may turn out to boost the Republicans into this election, it could have more negative consequences in the long term for the party and the country. It would deepen existing political divisions and the sense of alienation Trump supporters hold. 

The Supreme Court is expected not to bar Trump from appearing on ballots.  That means the election risks degenerating into a battle of personalities rather than being a meaningful discussion on policy and vision.

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