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Ballot battles: The controversy over state powers in elections

Virginia voters cast their ballots at Newton-Lee Elementary School November 7, 2023 in Ashburn, Virginia.
Virginia voters cast their ballots at Newton-Lee Elementary School November 7, 2023 in Ashburn, Virginia. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

The recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the disqualification of former President Donald Trump on state ballots serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between state and federal authority within our nation’s legal framework. 

The division of powers between the federal and state governments is a crucial element of the constitutional structure of the United States. The Constitution assigns specific powers to the federal government while reserving others to the states. This ensures a system of checks and balances, which safeguards the rights of American citizens.

In their decision, the High Court underscored the limitations on state power by asserting that states do not have the jurisdiction to bar a candidate from running for federal office. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution clarifies that federal law is the “supreme Law of the Land,” meaning that if there is ever a conflict between state law and federal law, federal law wins out.

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In an opinion piece on The Hill, David Ramadan expressed these sentiments, “This decision is a reminder of the careful balance of powers that defines our federal system. It reinforces the idea that while states play a crucial role in the administration of elections, the qualifications for federal officeholders are not theirs to redefine. This boundary is crucial for maintaining a unified electoral system across the nation, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of where they live, consistently understand who can and cannot serve in public office.”

The 9-0 ruling of the Supreme Court sheds light on the preeminence of federal governance over state autonomy, particularly concerning interpreting and enforcing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. 

If we look back at the history and the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868, the United States was characterized by social unrest and racial divisions after the Civil War. The 14th Amendment was a necessary addition to the Constitution because it was crafted in such a way as to guarantee that all people who were born or naturalized in the US are granted complete citizenship rights and that no state would be allowed to deprive any person of their life, liberty, or property without following the due process of law. That is why the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado could not remove any candidate from the ballot based on their interpretation of the Constitution, for it would “invert the 14th Amendment’s rebalancing of federal and state power.”

If a state's attorney general or secretary of state is biased against a particular candidate and is supported by a federal judge in declaring that candidate ineligible, it can pose a serious threat to our system of governance. Such actions undermine the fundamental principle that our government draws its power from the consent of the governed and could potentially lead to the takeover of our democratic process. 

While commonly associated with the abolition of slavery and the granting of equal civil rights, the 14th Amendment’s influence extends into many other domains, including the protection of religious freedoms. The amendment ensured civil rights for every individual, irrespective of their background, religion, or circumstances. 

As citizens of the United States, we should express gratitude to the Supreme Court for upholding the essential values of our democratic republic. The ruling has helped preserve the authenticity of our electoral procedures, preventing any intentional undermining of the voice of the people, and also ensuring the protection of a candidate's personal perspectives and religious beliefs.

Jason Jimenez is the founder and president of Stand Strong Ministries and is a respected Christian-worldview speaker, and faculty member at Summit Ministries. He is the best-selling author of Hijacking Jesus: How Progressive Christians Are Remaking Him and Taking Over the Church, Challenging Conversations: A Practical Guide to Discuss Controversial Topics in the Church, and Parenting Gen Z: Guiding Your Child through a Hostile Culture.

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