Constitutional Law

Trump could conceivably run for president and even govern the US from prison, legal scholars say

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Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump. Photo from Shutterstock.

The U.S. Constitution would not prevent former President Donald Trump from running for president or governing the country while in prison, nine legal experts told Business Insider.

The only constitutional requirements are that presidential candidates be natural born U.S. citizens, be at least 35 years old and be residents of the United States for at least 14 years, Business Insider reports.

The Business Insider article said two presidential candidates have already run for the office while in prison: Socialist candidate Eugene Debs, who was convicted of treason for opposing involvement in World War I, and Lyndon LaRouche, who was convicted of mail fraud in 1988.

Business Insider noted that Trump has not been charged with crimes, although the FBI has searched his Florida home for classified documents, a Georgia grand jury is investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and a House committee is investigating Trump’s involvement during the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack.

If Trump was charged in connection with the Capitol attack, he could be barred from office by the 14th Amendment, which bars people from federal office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave “aid or comfort” to U.S. enemies, according to Business Insider, an August post at the Election Law Blog and a Bloomberg story published by the Washington Post.

Another possible roadblock is the federal law barring removal or destruction of government records, according to Bloomberg. The law says anyone convicted for a violation is disqualified from federal office. But the law can’t override the Constitution, which sets the exclusive requirements for a president, according to the Election Law Blog post by Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

Hasen thinks that the 14th Amendment argument is stronger.

“There’s already a powerful case to be made that Trump ‘engaged in insurrection’ within the meaning of this constitutional clause,” Hasen wrote.

And the issue should be decided sooner rather than later, he said.

Hasen suggested that Congress could authorize the Department of Justice to file a civil suit to decide whether Trump is ineligible for office under the 14th Amendment. A ruling in favor of the argument could keep Trump off the ballot, he said.

Business Insider asked then-Trump spokesman Jason Miller last year whether Trump would consider a presidential campaign if he was incarcerated.

“This is legitimately the stupidest press inquiry I’ve received in 2021,” Miller told the publication.

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