Democrats are being very quiet about Trump’s ballot case

Not a single sitting Democratic member of Congress, governor, state attorney general or secretary of state filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court — submissions from parties not involved in the case to tell the court where they stand — advocating for Trump to be removed.

And there was no organized effort by Democrats on Capitol Hill to weigh in on the case. Individual members generally said they felt that the case had merit, but met the lack of party response with a shrug.

Democrats’ attempts to stay out of the 14th Amendment issue may be intended to avoid the appearance that they’re politicizing the law and the courts. But the potential disqualification of a leading presidential candidate is inherently a political and legal question, and Democrats’ comparative silence has been asymmetrical, with Republicans eager to jump into this fray in particular.

Democrats have long grappled with the question of how to engage on Trump’s legal troubles — even when it is a political process and not in the courts. When some Democrats clapped after Trump’s first impeachment, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was
quick to shush them
, for example.

“The courts will look at it on its merits and make a decision. I don’t think Democrats weighing in would really change the outcome,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who co-chaired the Jan. 6 committee, told POLITICO. He added that while there are “legitimate issues with Trump being on the ballot” based on that investigation, he would “defer that decision to individual states.”

President Joe Biden has
demurred when asked about the challenges
, and the Department of Justice has pointedly not weighed in on the case at all.

Republicans flooded the court with briefs in support of Trump — but almost nothing came from Democrats to argue in favor of the other side. In fact, there were more former Republican elected officials weighing in against Trump than Democrats supporting the legal argument he should be disqualified.

“I can’t really say,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said when asked why there no Democratic caucus briefing. “You’d have to ask the folks who normally lawyer up on those things. But it shouldn’t be like a political football.”

One of the few Democrats to wade into the overall legal fight is Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who found in
December that Trump was ineligible
and barred him from the ballot in her state. (Her decision was paused by a state court pending a ruling in the Colorado case, and she did not file a brief to weigh in on the Supreme Court case.)

But Democratic officials have largely been entirely absent from the legal process. A handful of secretaries of state punted on the issue, saying
it is the role of the courts
to make that decision as they faced public pressure to disqualify him. And amid a push in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom in December
tried to throw cold water on it
, saying “in California, we defeat candidates at the polls. Everything else is a political distraction.”

“Perhaps it’s just a matter of being accustomed to getting kicked in the teeth by the Supreme Court,” said Devon Ombres, the senior director for courts and legal policy at liberal think tank The Center for American Progress and a former senior council to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on the Hill. “It’s a matter of not just jinxing the damn thing, maybe?”

One elected Democrat who did write to the court, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, declined to actually take a side on the legal merits. Instead, she wrote her brief only to say that “for the good of our democracy” the court should issue a final ruling one way or another and not kick the decision down the road.

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