In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress adopted a trio of Constitutional amendments granting full citizenship to four million former slaves.
The 13th banned slavery. The 14th granted them equal protection under the law. The 15th gave the former slaves the right to vote.
For the amendments to become part of the Constitution, three quarters of the states had to ratify them, and the Northern states did so. But, to reach that mark, they needed the approval of some Southern states. The leaders complied and soon enacted the Jim Crow laws to restrict the votes of former slaves and their relatives.
The 14th also punished the former rebel leaders by banning them from public office. Later many were pardoned. OK, it has been 156 years since the Civil War ended. Why is this important today? Because since Jan. 6, the word insurrection has recently come into common usage. And the 14th amendment keys on the word “insurrection.”
Here is what Section 3 says:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Was the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol an insurrection?
If so, what does this mean for the former president and members of Congress who support and praise the attempted takeover as just a tourist visit? Did their actions give “aid and comfort” to the insurrectionists? Could their actions bar them from public office?
The dictionary says an insurrection is: “a violent uprising against an authority or government.”
I am not qualified to lay out a legal case for or against its application. After all, I am a scribbler, not a legal scholar.
So I looked for someone who studies these things and called Andrew Rudalevige, the chair of the Bowdoin College Government and Legal Studies department, and asked him if the 14th amendment might apply today.
Interesting question, he said and he put the phone down for a moment to pull out his copy of the Constitution. He thought about it for a minute, then said the answer was maybe yes, and probably no.
“To disqualify someone from office based upon the third part of the 14th would turn on the word insurrection. That might apply to the Qanon Shaman,” he said.
But would it cover their supporters, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and other members of Congress?
“Probably not,” he said. “You would have to prove the Jan. 6 event was an insurrection, and I suppose you would have to prove they were guilty of treason to disqualify them,” he said.
But the professor said the second section of the 14th might come into play in the current political climate which has seen southern Republican legislators enact laws narrowing the way elections are held.
The 14th says in part: “But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.”
Rudalevige said the word “abridge” might be the key to this part of the discussion. He said it is hardly a secret what the new voting restrictions are targeting. But do the recently enacted laws abridge the right to vote?
One definition of the word abridge is diminish. Do the new voting laws “diminish” the voting rights of some citizens?
“This question is and will become part of the political debate,” said Rudalevige.
When you ask a question, sometimes you don’t get an answer. You get another question.
As we near the start of the 2022 political season, we are still arguing over 2020. In quiet conference rooms, over the kitchen table, and in back rooms, the arguments, nasty insults and bad jokes are still flying.
Stay tuned, dear friends. Here we go again.