How 2 sentences in the Constitution rose from obscurity to ensnare Donald Trump

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI (Associated Press)

DENVER (AP) — In the summer of 2020, Gerard Magliocca, like many during the coronavirus pandemic, found himself stuck inside with time on his hands.

A law professor at Indiana University, Magliocca emailed with another professor, who was writing a book about overlooked parts of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. He decided he would research the history of two long-neglected sentences in the post-Civil War addition that prohibit those who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.

Magliocca posted a copy of his research — which he believed was the first law journal article ever written about Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — online in mid-December of 2020, then revised and re-posted it on Dec. 29. Eight days later, President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of his loss to Joe Biden. Magliocca watched as Republicans such as Sens. Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney described the attack as an “insurrection.”

That night, Magliocca composed a quick post on a legal blog: “Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment,” he wrote, “might apply to President Trump.”

Just over four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to determine whether it does. On Thursday, the nation’s highest court is scheduled to hear arguments over whether Trump can remain on the ballot in Colorado, where the state’s Supreme Court ruled that he violated Section 3.

It’s the first time in history that the nation’s highest court has heard a case on Section 3, which was used to keep former Confederates from holding government offices after the amendment’s 1868 adoption. It fell into disuse after Congress granted an amnesty to most ex-rebels in 1872.

Before the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, even many constitutional lawyers rarely thought about Section 3, a provision that isn’t taught at most law schools and hadn’t been used in court for more than 100 years. Legal scholars believe the only time it was cited in the 20th century was to deny a seat in Congress to a socialist on the grounds that he opposed U.S. involvement in World War I.

The clause’s revival is due to an unlikely combination of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, all rediscovering 111 words in the nation’s foundational legal document that have now become a threat to the former president’s attempt to return to office.


Once she had dried her tears after watching rioters storm the Capitol, Norma Anderson sat down with one of the multiple copies of the Constitution she keeps around her house in the Denver suburbs and reread the 14th Amendment.

“I made the connection,” Anderson, now 91, said in an interview.