Courts

Yes, Convicted Felon Donald Trump Can Still Be President

Trump will appeal of course.
Trump will appeal of course. Screenshot
On Thursday, Donald Trump became the first former American president to be convicted of a felony. A New York jury found him guilty of 34 crimes related to falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment he made to two women he had sexual relations with, a scandal that threatened to derail his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump will be sentenced by Judge Juan Merchan on July 11 and faces up to four years in prison.

While it’s possible that this conviction may impact Trump’s chances to win an election, it in no way impedes his ability to run and even hold the office of president. Constitutionally, nothing has changed when it comes to the Trump candidacy.

This might seem strange. After all, the vast majority of states restrict voting rights for convicted felons at least to some degree. In Trump’s home state of Florida, he will only be able to regain the right to vote after he completes all the terms of his sentence, at which point he will have to register to vote again.

But the constitution has no restrictions on a convicted felon, even an incarcerated one, running and serving from prison. In fact, several fringe candidates have run from prison, most famously Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs. It was perfectly legally, though, clearly, not terribly effective

It makes sense if you think about what the founders were concerned with the constitution was written. Above all, they feared a return of monarchy-style tyranny. In their view, it would be far too easy to convict a candidate on trumped up charges using the power of the state to end a political rival’s career.

That’s why there is a clause in the constitution to prevent the arrest of members of Congress while in session. Prior to 1689, the British Crown had often used the courts to punish, harass, and intimidate Parliament when they threatened the regent’s agenda. The founders were well aware of how a government could abuse the courts to hold onto power.

Ironically, that worry about tyranny is what is keeping Trump in the race now. Never in American history has a convicted felon be a major party’s presumptive nominee. Historically, parties have avoided this situation precisely because it throws a monkey wrench into the entire system of checks and balances. When figures like Richard Nixon reached this point, they resigned and were pardoned, a devil’s deal that kept the nation from having to face a constitutional crisis.

There is no such deal coming for Trump. These are state charges. Even if President Joe Biden did want to extract a promise from Trump to drop out of the race in exchange for clemency, he couldn’t. For better or worse, New York has drawn a line in the sand, and Americans have to decide which side they are going to stand on.

Of course, this is hardly the end. Trump will almost certainly appeal the verdict. The fact that he is a former president virtually ensures that appeal with make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a third of whose members were appointed by Trump himself.

There is also Trump’s extremely full criminal and civil trial schedule, including an election fraud case in Georgia that was tentatively slated to begin in August. There is a fair chance that by the time the election rolls around, Trump will have more convictions.

What the country has to decide now is whether that makes him unworthy of a second term. There is no rule in place that will take that choice away from people. The constitution stands by that choice. Even if Trump is rotting in a cell come November, his status as President will be decided at the ballot box.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner