Preventing those who participated in Jan. 6 from being able to serve in public office

The public hearings of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on our U.S. Capitol have made it abundantly clear that the former president was at the center of an illegal scheme to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, including inciting a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol. 

No prior president has attempted such a heinous act, and no one who participated in this effort to usurp power can be trusted with public office. All too clearly, Donald Trump proved that he is not fit to hold office and is a danger to democracy. 

I was in the House Gallery when the Trump-inspired mob of insurrectionists tried to break into the Chamber, and I feared for my life. I managed to get to my empty office, alone, and armed myself with a baseball bat against a possible break-in by the ranting thugs. I also knew some of the U.S. Capitol police who died in the days that followed the attack. This national disgrace is personal to me. 

Fifty-one days after the Jan. 6 attack, as chairman of the  House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, I introduced legislation to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution, to ensure that those  who were responsible for or participated in the attack would never again serve in public office. This section of the Constitution prohibits anyone who has engaged in insurrection against the Constitution they swore to protect, or who has provided “aid and comfort” to our enemies, from serving in public office. 

The Jan. 6 Committee has provided ample evidence that Trump, and many of his advisers, including some who later sought pardons, fit the definition of those who have engaged in insurrection and whose actions constitute treason against our nation. 

Ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment explicitly disqualifies any person from public office who, having previously taken an oath as a federal or state officeholder, engaged in insurrection or rebellion. Having lived through the violent rebellion of the Civil War, the framers of the 14th Amendment were concerned that officeholders who had engaged in insurrection might again serve in the very state and federal governments they had previously sought to overthrow. 

The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol demonstrates that the concerns that prompted ratification of the 14th Amendment are present today.  Some rioters who attempted to impede the constitutional function of our democracy and overturn the 2020 election results are currently candidates for governorships and other high offices. In response to the first invasion of the Capitol since the British attacked during the War of 1812, it is important that we enforce the constitutional provision establishing that any officeholders who violated their oaths of office and engaged in this insurrection cannot be trusted with public office. 

Actions have consequences. Trump’s effort to circumvent the will of the people and destroy our democracy cannot be met with us standing idly by as an authoritarian seeks to get back to the Oval Office. 

Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, represents Tennessee’s 9th District.