Adam Schiff on disqualifying Trump, "By the clear terms of the 14th Amendment he should be disqualified from holding office." pic.twitter.com/E5JjRROs1K— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) September 3, 2023
The North had won the Civil War, but its victory was put in jeopardy by the lax policy of President Andrew Johnson. The successor to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln had been pardoning former secessionists. He had been looking the other way as southern white elites terrorized freed slaves away from voting. As things were going, ex-Confederates were poised to regain power not only at the local level, but also inside the U.S. House and Senate. Union-loyal Republicans faced a terrifying prospect: After so much blood had been spilled, the defeated South might reclaim at the ballot box the political sway it had wielded before the Civil War.
Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment was written to prevent that outcome. Anybody who had held federal or state office before 1861, and who had then supported the Confederacy in any way, would be debarred from holding office of any kind, federal or state, civil or military. The power to restore political rights would be removed from the president and awarded to Congress. Congress would have to approve the restoration by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
Soon enough, the problem addressed by Section 3 receded....
There are other problems- institutional, practical, strategic, and electoral. (Frum addresses all but the last.) However, Adam Schiff is a lawyer and if one assumes he is sincere, he clearly believes that the 14th Amendment fits Donald Trump like a glove. But context matters. It's not surprising that a constitutional amendment drafted in the wake of a civil war over 150 years earlier would not be applicable to our present predicament. And it's not.