Innocent until proven guilty. That’s a fundamental right in America, at least until now.
Anti-Trump groups determined to disqualify the leading Republican candidate for president are urging state election officials across the U.S. to remove Donald Trump from the ballot, claiming he’s an “insurrectionist.” They’re citing an arcane clause in the 14th Amendment, written after the Civil War, that disqualifies anyone who “engaged in insurrection” against the United States from holding public office.
Here’s the hitch. Trump has never been convicted of insurrection, and none of his prosecutors — not Jack Smith nor Fani Willis — is charging him with insurrection. The House of Representatives impeached him, accusing him of insurrection, but he was acquitted. So, zero convictions, one acquittal.
Even so, left-wing group Free Speech For People has sent letters to state election officials labeling Trump an insurrectionist and telling these officials they have a duty to remove Trump from the ballot. Under this scheme, if Trump wants to be on the ballot, he’ll have to go to court and prove his innocence. In short, guilty until proven innocent. That’s as un-American as it gets. Whether you like Trump or loathe him, you should be concerned. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley calls it “the single most dangerous constitutional theory I’ve seen in decades.”
The ploy could also produce chaos in November and December, as states preparing for the upcoming presidential primaries deal with lawsuits over Trump’s presence on the ballot. New Hampshire’s secretary of state and attorney general issued a joint statement last week saying they are “carefully reviewing the legal issues involved.”
Ultimately, any attempt to remove Trump from the ballot would rocket up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Free Speech For People President John Bonifaz has worked closely with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021. Raskin and Democrats failed to convict Trump then. Resorting to the “insurrection clause” is a ploy to get what they failed to achieve constitutionally.
Anti-Trumpers on the right are also willing to label Trump an “insurrectionist” without legal proof and deem him disqualified. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said as much on the Republican debate stage in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
Last spring, Free Speech For People tried to get Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) removed from the ballot in Georgia using the insurrection clause. But Judge Charles Beaudrot ruled there was insufficient evidence she had engaged in insurrection. “Heated political rhetoric? Yes,” the judge said. ” A call to arms for consummation of a pre-planned violent revolution? No.”
The ploy to take Trump off the ballot is profoundly anti-democratic. Due process and the presumption of innocence — even for Trump — are principles that make our nation exceptional. Respect America.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.