Does Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment Apply to State Elected Officials?

Less than a week after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, I wrote a brief blog post on whether section 3 of the 14th amendment applied to the presidency. (Don’t feel bad if you forgot this- so did I). The relevant text of section 3 is set forth below:

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. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

This language describes two categories or groups of offices or positions. One is the category of previously held offices/positions which will trigger section 3’s disqualification if the official in question, after taking the oath, commits insurrection, rebellion, etc. We will call this category, following the terminology used by Professors Baude and Paulsen, the “disqualification-triggering” offices or positions.

The second category (second in time, although it appears first in the text of section 3) consists of those offices/positions that a previously disqualified official is prohibited from holding in the future. We will call these, following Professor Hemel, the “banned” offices or positions.

My prior post briefly addressed two questions: (1) whether the president is an “officer of the United States” under section 3 and therefore holds a disqualification-triggering office; and (2) whether the presidency is an “office under the United States” and therefore qualifies as a banned office. I predicted, based on a long history of work by Professor Tillman, joined more recently by Professor Blackman, that Tillman and Blackman would answer both these questions in the negative. I also noted, based on my own long history of responding to (mostly) Tillman’s work, that these answers would be wrong, although I allowed that the first question was “somewhat closer” than the second.

As it turns out, my prediction was not entirely correct. Tillman and Blackman do indeed claim that the president is not an officer of the United States and therefore does not hold a disqualification-triggering office, but they expressly decline to take a position on whether the presidency is an “office under the United States” for purposes of section 3. This constitutes progress, I guess, and I congratulate them for not extending what I consider to be grievous error. In the same spirit, I will somewhat soften my position on the first question. Although I am still inclined to think the president is an officer of the United States for purposes of section 3, I think it is fair to treat it as an open question, which I hope to explore further in future posts.

Today, however, I want to address a different set of issues, which have not been discussed in depth by any of the principal commentators on section 3 (at least to my knowledge). Does section 3 apply to state elected officials/positions and, if so, which ones? This question is not only of some current interest in its own right, but the answer has some important implications for the Tillman/Blackman theory that underlies the overall controversy.

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