David French on Section 3

His N.Y. Times opinion column:

“[The Baude-Paulsen article presents] a fascinating and compelling argument that only grows more compelling with each painstakingly researched page. But as I was reading it, a single, depressing thought came to my mind. Baude and Paulsen’s argument may well represent the single most rigorous and definitive explanation of Section 3 ever put to paper, yet it’s difficult to imagine, at this late date, the Supreme Court ultimately either striking Trump from the ballot or permitting state officials to do so.

“As powerful as Baude and Paulsen’s substantive argument is, the late date means that by the time any challenge to Trump’s eligibility might reach the Supreme Court, voters may have already started voting in the Republican primaries. Millions of votes could have been cast. The Supreme Court is already reluctant to change election procedures on the eve of an election. How eager would it be to remove a candidate from the ballot after he’s perhaps even clinched a primary?

“While I believe the court should intervene even if the hour is late, it’s worth remembering that it would face this decision only because of the comprehensive failure of congressional Republicans. Let me be specific. There was never any way to remove Trump from American politics through the Democratic Party alone. Ending Trump’s political career required Republican cooperation, and Republicans have shirked their constitutional duties, sometimes through sheer cowardice. They have punted their responsibilities to other branches of government or simply shrunk back in fear of the consequences.

“… Because of G.O.P. cowardice, our nation is genuinely facing the possibility of a president’s taking the oath of office while also appealing one or more substantial prison sentences.

“Republicans have also punted to the American voters, suggesting that any outstanding questions of Trump’s fitness be decided at the ballot box. It’s a recommendation with some real appeal. (In his most recent newsletter, my colleague Ross Douthat makes a powerful case that only politics can solve the problem of Donald Trump.) “Give the people what they want” is a core element of democratic politics, and if enough people “want” Trump, then who are American politicians or judges to deprive them? Yet the American founders (and the drafters of the 14th Amendment) also knew the necessity of occasionally checking the popular will, and the Constitution thus contains a host of safeguards designed to protect American democracy from majorities run amok. After all, if voting alone were sufficient to protect America from insurrectionist leaders, there would have been no need to draft or ratify Section 3.

“Why are Republicans in Congress punting to voters and the legal system? For many of them, the answer lies in raw fear. First, there is the simple political fear of losing a House or Senate seat. In polarized, gerrymandered America, all too many Republican politicians face political risk only from their right, and that “right” appears to be overwhelmingly populated by Trumpists. …

“… Michael McConnell, a conservative professor I admire a great deal (and one who is no fan of Donald Trump), expressed concern about the Section 3 approach to disqualifying Trump. ‘I worry that this approach could empower partisans to seek disqualification every time a politician supports or speaks in support of the objectives of a political riot,’ he wrote, adding, ‘Imagine how bad actors will use this theory.’

“In other words, Trump abused America once, and the fear is that if we hold him accountable, he or his allies will abuse our nation again. I think Professor McConnell’s warnings are correct. Trump and his allies are already advertising their plans for revenge. But if past practice is any guide, Trump and his allies will abuse our nation whether we hold him accountable or not. The abuse is the constant reality of Trump and the movement he leads. Accountability is the variable — dependent on the courage and will of key American leaders — and only accountability has any real hope of stopping the abuse. …

“Thankfully, the American legal system has worked well enough to knock the MAGA movement on its heels. Hundreds of Jan. 6 rioters face criminal justice. The movement’s corrupt lawyers face their own days in court. Trump is indicted in four jurisdictions. Yet all of that work can be undone — and every triumph will turn to defeat — if a disqualified president reclaims power in large part through the fear of his foes.

“… [W]hile the threat remains, so must the resolve, even if it means asking the Supreme Court to intervene at the worst possible time. Let me end where I began. Read Baude and Paulsen — and not just for their compelling legal argument. Read and remember what it was like when people of character and conviction inhabited the American political class. They have given us the tools to defend the American experiment. All we need is the will.”

This extremely thoughtful column has a lot to chew on; read the whole thing, not just the above excerpts. I will note here only that I differ a bit on his view about the timing of the Supreme Court’s consideration of the issue. As I have said before, while it would have been better to resolve this issue earlier, I think doing so before the Republican convention is soon enough. I don’t think the Purcell principle bars litigating this issue as long as election officials preparing the November general election ballot know who is the Republican nominee after its convention.

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