Oyez, oyez, oyez: A listener’s guide to Supreme Court arguments over Trump and the ballot

Feb 8, 2024, 4:05 AM

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer stands in fron of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Feb. 7, 202...

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer stands in fron of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Washington. The Supreme Court hears arguments on Feb. 8 over whether former President Donald Trump can be kept off the ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday over whether kept off the 2024 ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The justices will wrestle with whether a provision of the 14th Amendment aimed at keeping former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” can be applied to Trump, the leading candidate in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Supreme Court has never looked at the provision, Section 3, since the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. But Trump appealed to the high court after Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that he could be kept off the state’s primary ballot.


The court marshal will bang her gavel at 10 a.m. EST, but the livestream won’t start immediately. The justices will issue opinions in one or more cases argued earlier this term. It could be a few minutes before Chief Justice John Roberts announces the start of arguments in Trump v. Anderson, as the case is called. The livestream won’t kick in until then.

The court has allotted 80 minutes for arguments, but in a case of such importance, the session easily could last two hours or more.


There are no cameras in the courtroom, but since the pandemic, the court has livestreamed its argument sessions. Listen live on apnews.com/live/trump-supreme-court-arguments-updates or the court’s website at www.supremecourt.gov. C-SPAN also will carry the arguments at www.c-span.org.


Almost everything at the Supreme Court is based on seniority, with the chief justice first among equals. But after the lawyers make opening remarks, the next voice listeners will hear almost certainly will be the gravelly baritone of Justice Clarence Thomas. He has served longer than any of his colleagues and for years rarely participated in the arguments, saying he disliked the free-for-all and constant interrupting.

But when the court began hearing arguments remotely during the pandemic, Thomas began asking questions and hasn’t stopped. By informal agreement, the other justices stay silent to give Thomas first crack at the lawyers when the questioning begins.

In a second round, the justices ask questions in order of seniority, with Roberts leading off. Not everyone will necessarily have more to ask by this point.

Once both sides present their arguments, the lawyer for the party that appealed to the court gets a short, uninterrupted rebuttal.


The current court, especially the conservative justices, places a lot of weight on the meaning of laws and constitutional provisions at the time they were adopted. All the parties argue that history favors their reading of the provision, but they will face lots of questions from the court.


The discussion is likely to focus on several terms in the provision as the justices try to parse their meaning. The lawyers will put forth competing versions of whether Trump “engaged in insurrection.” They also will offer their views on whether the presidency is an “office … under the United States” and whether the president is an “officer of the United States.” A phrase that doesn’t appear in the amendment also might get bandied about. Trump’s lawyers and allies argue that Section 3 is not “self-executing,” and that Congress must pass legislation before the provision can be applied.


Salmon Chase, the 19th-century chief justice and politician, could get some air time during the arguments because of his views on whether Congress must act. In the space of a few months, Chase offered seemingly contradictory opinions that Section 3 needed no further action, in a case involving ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and that it did, in the case of a Black man who unsuccessfully sought to overturn a criminal conviction.

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Oyez, oyez, oyez: A listener’s guide to Supreme Court arguments over Trump and the ballot