Can Donald J. Trump Run for President if Indicted or Convicted of a Crime?

The question is now making the rounds as the Democrats are poised to try to indict former President Donald J. Trump and run him through the mud as they did with the two impeachment hoaxes. But the question must be poised, none the less.

Can Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States run for re-election in 2024 if he’s been indicted or convicted of a crime?

Legally, and constitutionally, Trump could run for president, even if he was convicted of a crime.

“A criminal conviction does not prevent a person from running for president,” said Barbara L. McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former U.S. Attorney. “The Constitution controls this question, and it makes no prohibition. States can decide their own rules for who is eligible to hold office within their own states, but they cannot disqualify someone from running for president.”

But what does the Constitution say?

Political talking heads, legal experts, and pundits galore like to look at Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and say that could keep Trump off the ballot.

“shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military” who had previously taken an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” That section was added after the Civil War.

The same liberals tried to use that to keep U.S. Congressman Madison Cawthorn R-NC, from being on the ballot in his home state. Because he spoke on stage before the Jan 6 unarmed insurrection where truck drivers and grandmas took selfies in the Rotunda at the Capitol.

Here’s some quick notes as we dive in a little deeper here.

  • The U.S. Constitution says presidential candidates must be citizens and residents of the United States for at least 14 years and at least 35 years old. It does not state that a criminal indictment or conviction prevents someone from running for president.
  • A separate section of the Constitution bans federal office holders who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” It was a condition added after the Civil War, but using it to keep today’s candidates off the ballot is a long shot.
  • Some state laws and constitutions bar felons from running for office, but that’s for state or local offices only.

Convicted felons have run for President before. Lyndon LaRouche was convicted in 1988 of tax and mail fraud conspiracy and ran for President multiple times between 1976 and 2004. LaRouche first ran as the Labor Party and later as a Democrat. Shocking, we know.

Eugene Debs was convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for an anti-war speech then ran for president as a socialist from a federal prison in Alabama in 1920. Debs’ supporters handed out campaign buttons for “Prisoner 9653.” The candidate who beat Debs, William Harding, commuted Debs’ 10-year sentence. 

The United States Constitution TRUMP’s state law when it comes to presidential qualifications. Did you see what we did there?

For example, in 1992 when Arkansas tried to enact term limits on federal offices in 1992, the measure was struck down quickly by the courts.

Arkansas voters had adopted a state constitutional amendment that banned U.S. House or Senate members who had served a certain number of terms from running for re-election. The amendment was challenged, and in 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court held in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton that states could not add qualifications for congressional candidates. The qualifications enumerated in the Constitution are exclusive, said Derek Muller, a University of Iowa law professor and expert on election law. 

“There is general agreement that this extends to presidential candidates, too,” Muller said. “That means a state cannot prohibit indicted or convicted felons from running for president.”

The reasoning and rationale behind this is to prevent states fro driving presidential selection by imposing additional qualifications that would become, potentially, a framework that very few candidates could meet or could be easily manipulated to enable some states to even collude with candidates Rebecca Green, a professor of Law at William and Mary says.

“As to the question of why the Constitution does not prohibit those with criminal convictions running for president, part of the rationale may have been to prevent states from criminalizing certain activities as a means of gaming eligibility,” Green said.

Well, there you have it. Donald Trump, even if indicted can run for office, unless they somehow pull off the little loop hole of “rebellion” or “insurrection” and get it to stick. We all saw how the impeachment vote turned out though, didn’t we?

Thanks to our friends at Politifact who helped contribute to this article.

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Our Sources

U.S. Constitution, Article II Clause 5

U.S. Supreme Court, U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 1995 ruling

Smithsonian Magazine, When America’s Most Prominent Socialist Was Jailed for Speaking Out Against World War I, June 15, 2018

Lawfare blog, A Practical Path to Condemn and Disqualify Donald Trump, Jan .22, 2021

Slate, Can Trump Run for President From Prison? May 26, 2021

NPR, Conspiracy Theorist And Frequent Presidential Candidate Lyndon LaRouche Dies At 96, Feb. 14, 2019

WRAL, Judge blocks effort to keep Cawthorn off NC ballots, March 4, 2022

Washington Post, 100 years ago, a president forgave his opponent’s alleged subversion, Jan. 6, 2022

PolitiFact, What Trump told Georgia election officials, March 16, 2021

PolitiFact, Can a convicted felon run for Congress from jail? June 25, 2013

Email interview, Barbara McQuade, law professor at the University of Michigan and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, March 4, 2022

Email interview, Rebecca Green, William & Mary law professor, March 4, 2022

Email interview, Derek Muller,  University of Iowa law professor, March 4, 2022

Email interview, Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin political science professor, March 4, 2022

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