Fight attacks on political rights! Defend Trump’s right to ballot

By Terry Evans
January 15, 2024

Without even a court hearing, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows threw Donald Trump off the presidential ballot Dec. 28, following a similar ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court. Both decisions were based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868 to bar former Confederate rebel officers from taking office after they were defeated in the Second American Revolution — the war to overthrow the slavocracy.

The questions involved in the attack on Trump are weighty, as working people face an economic and social crisis today bred by the workings of capitalism and are looking for ways to advance our class interests. For this we need constitutional rights.

Section 3 was adopted as part of deep-going revolutionary advances that followed the Civil War. Many ex-Confederate officers waged fierce battles seeking to deny African Americans land and equal rights, including the right to vote.

Barring Trump has nothing to do with those struggles, but would be a serious blow to basic constitutional rights, preventing working people from voting for the candidate of their choice. As the Colorado and Maine rulings are appealed, Democrats are working overtime to use a barrage of court cases to short-circuit the 2024 elections and swing the vote for unpopular President Joseph Biden.

On top of these challenges to Trump’s right to run, he faces trial March 4 in Washington, D.C., on Justice Department claims he conspired to overturn the 2020 election. On March 25 he’s slated for trial in New York for the “crime” of instructing his lawyer to make hush-money payments in 2016. A May 20 trial date has been set in Florida on Justice Department charges he kept allegedly classified documents after leaving office, a “crime” most former presidents are guilty of. And Aug. 5 is the tentative trial date on racketeering charges filed by Democratic prosecutors in Georgia.

The scale of this partisan witch hunt against a capitalist politician during an election campaign is unprecedented. If Democrats can bar Trump from running, it will set a precedent the capitalist rulers will use to do the same and far worse to candidates from the Socialist Workers Party and others.

In Maine, Bellows claims that Trump’s speech on Jan. 6, 2021, was “incendiary rhetoric” to “prevent a peaceful transfer of power.” In fact he expressed his opinion about the election results and urged protesters to be peaceful — all of it protected free speech. Bellows relies on the Democrats’ congressional hearing on the Jan. 6 break-in at the Capitol. But this was a show trial, stage-managed by Democrats and Republican Never-Trumpers relying on heavily edited videos that blocked cross-examination or opposing testimony.

And in Colorado, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Samour issued a dissenting opinion, pointing out that states have no authority to enforce Section 3.

Section 5 of the 14th Amendment unambiguously states, “Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” No one else. Just months after the Jan. 6 riot, Congress considered and did not pass legislation to enforce Section 3 against so-called insurrectionists.

Law dates back to Civil War

The victory of the North in the Civil War opened the door to class battles that changed the country forever.

Freed slaves led mighty struggles to establish Reconstruction governments to aid their fight for rights, property, land and political power. Public education was won for all. Attempts to force them into contract labor gangs on the former slaveholders’ plantations were pushed back. In the face of violent resistance, the freed slaves were a key part of the fight to win passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, guaranteed U.S. citizenship to freed slaves and recognized their right to vote.

Section 3 was adopted not to limit voting rights, but to aid these struggles against the former slaveholders.

In 1870 Congress passed the First Ku Klux Klan Act to further protect Black voting rights in response to white supremacist violence across the South. The act implemented Section 3 to remove officials who obstructed Blacks from voting.

Zebulon Vance, a former colonel in the Confederate army, was prevented from taking his U.S. Senate seat in 1871. He had been appointed by North Carolina’s legislature, after racist thugs had suppressed Black suffrage, enabling Vance to gain a majority in the legislature.

These steps were aimed at reinforcing the defeat of a real insurrection — the secession of the South and start of the Civil War. Nothing Trump did on Jan. 6 is remotely similar to what the former slaveholders did after the Civil War, nor does the attempt to bar him from the presidency today bear any similarity to the fight for Reconstruction.

The crushing of Radical Reconstruction took a bloody counterrevolution. Both capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans, agreed to pull Union troops from the South in 1877, leading to a reign of terror by racist gangs and the imposition of Jim Crow segregation, the worst defeat the working class in the U.S. ever suffered.

As part of this counterrevolution, Congress passed an amnesty bill, removing restrictions on government service from all but a few hundred former Confederates.

Law lies fallow

Since then Section 3 has been utilized only twice, and for a vastly different purpose. Wisconsin Socialist Party candidate Victor Berger was elected to Congress in 1918, but barred from holding office under Section 3, ostensibly because he had been convicted for the “crime” of speaking out against U.S. entry into the first imperialist world war.

The only successful use of Section 3 to unseat an elected official in over a century was against Couy Griffin, who was removed as an elected county commissioner in New Mexico as an insurrectionist because he was convicted of a misdemeanor charge for trespassing on the Capitol grounds Jan. 6. He never entered the building.

The Colorado Supreme Court disqualified Trump under a section of the state’s election code that says any candidate who is ineligible to serve after being elected cannot appear on the ballot. A similar law exists in New York. Described by the New York Times in 1967 as the “anti-Judy White bill,” it was adopted after White ran for governor as the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party. White was 28 and deemed “too young” to hold office.

This is a graphic example of how attacks by the Democrats and Republicans on constitutional rights end up coming down on the working class.