In 1796, in his farewell address to the nation, President George Washington warned of “crafty, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who could “undermine the power of the people.” Today, with his Republican rivals offering no credible resistance, could Donald Trump be brought down by another 155-year-old text?

The former US president, who was indicted four times for exceptionally serious crimes within just a few months, is destroying the election campaign in the run-up to the primaries. He is now the clear favorite to represent the Grand Old Party in the 2024 presidential election. Without even mentioning his chances of victory, the mere prospect of victory seems unlikely given his central role in attempting to thwart the peaceful transfer of power following Joe Biden’s victory , to be an aberration. It was a failed coup with multiple strands, culminating in the attack on the Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021.

Some expect the courts to neutralize Donald Trump, even if a conviction would not disqualify him from running. Others approach the topic from a different angle. A legal debate has reignited the question of possible disqualification of Donald Trump in the name of the Constitution he tried to trample.

Such retaliation or self-defense of America’s most sacred political text would involve recourse to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. It does not specifically mention the office of President of the United States, but provides that no person who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution may hold civil or military office if he or she has taken part in an insurrection or rebellion or provided assistance to insurgents.

From the Civil War

Two renowned conservative jurists, William Baude (University of Chicago) and Michael Stokes Paulsen (University of St. Thomas), spent a year working on Section 3. At the end of 126 dense pages, they concluded that Donald Trump could under no circumstances become president again unless he received an amnesty passed by two-thirds of Congress. An important detail is that these two lawyers are members of the Federalist Society, an organization of judges and experts who defend a literal interpretation of the Constitution. This organization served the ex-president in particular as a breeding ground for the appointment of judges up to the Supreme Court.

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Their analysis was enthusiastically received by two other undisputed authors. Law professor Laurence Tribe and conservative former Justice J. Michael Luttig both welcomed it. They testified before the House inquiry on January 6th. Section 3 “is not an anachronism or relic of the past; it applies today with the same force and effect as on the day of its ratification,” they wrote on August 19 The Atlantic.

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