In a ruling this week, the Michigan Supreme Court allowed Donald Trump to remain on the Republican primary ballot, rejecting the argument that the 14th Amendment’s ban on holding public office for government officials who’d previously engaged in insurrection against the United States disqualified the former president.

While some of the former president’s supporters will tout this as a sign of responsible jurists shooting down a politically-motivated effort to remove a legitimate candidate, that’s not really what the ruling says. It barely engages with the underlying insurrection ban question, instead pointing out that this is a more relevant question for next year’s general election, not the GOP primary. The justices certainly didn’t hand Trump a victory on the merits of his argument that he did not trip the constitutional prohibition.

This ruling agrees with a similar one out of Minnesota, but runs counter to a Colorado Supreme Court decision, as well as one by the secretary of state in Maine, that booted Trump off the ballot. The conflict between the state rulings sets this question up for a U.S. Supreme Court clarification, and while those nine have certainly shown themselves in recent years to be no more apolitical than any other branch of government, it is true that the federal arena is the proper venue for this issue. This is not a reflection of a belief that either the Michigan or Colorado high courts was correct or incorrect, but a marker of the national significance of this question.

Those who’ve pretended like this is an uncomplicated or cut-and-dry issue are kidding themselves. The law isn’t a pure expression of moral preference, whether you think that Trump is a clear and present danger to the country whose name shouldn’t so much as grace the ballot for dog catcher or a legitimate candidate whose exclusion is itself an antidemocratic hazard.

There are strong arguments to be made in either case (though not so for the loony perspective that he was in fact cheated out of his rightful second term by some shadowy cabal). Keeping an otherwise eligible candidate off the ballot through a somewhat subjective decision that he engaged in loosely-defined insurrection is a dead-serious matter no matter how you slice it, and there are very serious implications if that’s something that can be done easily, particularly by individual states.

At the same time, it’s absurd to suggest that this is some sort of totally manufactured attack on Trump. We all watched as the then-president, having been defeated in an election, tried desperately to subvert American democracy, encouraging fake electors, leaning on state officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and of course eventually whipping up his supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Everything that’s come out since then has only made clearer that Trump fully intended to negate the results.

Nothing about the Constitution’s language suggests that the ballot ban isn’t self-executing or requires a criminal conviction, nor that “insurrection” is to be construed narrowly as a formal armed rebellion. Whatever anyone’s definition of the term, it’s hard to imagine that Trump’s conduct plainly doesn’t qualify, nor that the amendment’s framers did not intend it to apply to the highest office in the land. However the U.S. Supreme Court approaches things, they should know this isn’t an easy call.

Editorial by the New York Daily News

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