Skip to main content

Supreme Court Rules Trump Can Stay on Colorado Ballot

Justices say only Congress can remove candidates for federal office from the presidential ballot.

By Susan Frederick and Helen Brewer  |  March 4, 2024

Only Congress can remove candidates for federal office from the presidential ballot, the U.S. Supreme Court says, overturning a Colorado Supreme Court decision that would have removed Donald Trump from that state’s primary ballot.

Six Colorado voters sought to remove Trump from the 2024 presidential ballot, arguing he was ineligible to run for president again because of his role in the events of Jan. 6, 2021. In December, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed and ordered Colorado Secretary of State Gena Griswold to remove Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot. Trump appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the court held that the Colorado Supreme Court lacks the constitutional authority to remove a candidate for federal office from the presidential ballot "[b]ecause the Constitution makes Congress, rather than the States, responsible for enforcing Section 3 [of the 14th Amendment] against federal officeholders and candidates."

To support its ruling, the court said the purpose of the 14th Amendment, which was drafted in 1865 and ratified in 1868, was to strengthen the still-fragile, post-Civil War Union by expanding the federal government’s authority over the states. In particular, Section 3, known as the disqualification clause, was drafted to prevent former confederates from returning to positions of power. It bars those who “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding federal office.

The court reasoned that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, known as the enforcement provision, allows Congress, not the states, to determine who is disqualified under Section 3. It held that, “Congress’ Section 5 power is critical when it comes to Section 3,” and that there is no way to enforce the disqualification clause of Section 3 without the enforcement clause of Section 5. The court concluded that although a state may disqualify candidates seeking to hold state offices, there must be an act of Congress to disqualify a candidate running for federal office, particularly a candidate running for president.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote a concurring opinion and agreed that states lack authority to enforce Section 3, but also would have decided whether federal legislation is the only way it can be enforced. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson also wrote a joint concurring opinion agreeing only with the judgment that allowing Colorado to remove a presidential candidate from the ballot would “create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles.”

Trump had been disqualified from the ballot in Colorado, Maine and Illinois, and his presence on the ballot had been challenged in 35 states, where the issue had been dismissed by some courts and was pending in others. He was disqualified in Colorado and Illinois by courts and by the secretary of state in Maine. Beyond their concerns with differing state approaches for disqualification, the concurring justices maintained that the majority opinion should have issued a narrower ruling that did not specify a need for congressional enforcement of Section 3 because neither party had raised that issue.

Susan Frederick is NCSL’s senior federal affairs counsel.

Helen Brewer is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

  • Contact NCSL

  • For more information on this topic, use this form to reach NCSL staff.