March 4, 2024 - 9:45pm

On Monday, even the US Supreme Court’s staunch liberal minority agreed that the 14th Amendment does not allow Colorado to bar Donald Trump from the presidential ballot on the grounds he engaged in or aided an “insurrection”. The decision was unanimous. 

If you placed bets based on media coverage of the case, though, you likely lost good money. The New York Times’s token conservative legal columnist David French called the argument against Trump “strong” in a January column which carried on as though only partisan hacks would think otherwise.

“Seems pretty clear to me,” Rachel Maddow laughed on MSNBC, similarly suggesting to viewers it would take a feat of legal gymnastics for MAGA judges to side with the former president. (One popular X account collected a list of the poorly-aged commentary from pundits on the Left and Right.)

Media favourites Laurence Tribe and J. Michael Luttig, who co-bylined an Atlantic essay in favour of barring Trump last year, projected their confidence all over the media after Colorado’s court ruled in December. Luttig, once appointed to the Fourth Circuit by President George H. W. Bush, said of the decision: “It was brilliant, and it is an unassailable interpretation of the 14th Amendment.” USA Today reported on Luttig’s assessment, issued on “Morning Joe”, with the headline “Masterful: Former conservative judge applauds decision to remove Donald Trump from Colorado ballot.” The article included no counterarguments. 

Tribe, for his part, echoed Luttig in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, heralding the decision as “unassailable” and categorising the dissents as “extremely weak, surprisingly weak”.

Contrast the much-amplified opinions of Tribe, Luttig, French, and others with what Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Jackson wrote in their concurring opinion. Colorado’s move, they decided, would “create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles”. 

While they criticised the majority’s full opinion as too sweeping, they pulled no punches against Colorado, writing: “It would defy logic for Section 3 to give States new powers to determine who may hold the Presidency”. “To allow Colorado to take a presidential candidate off the ballot under Section 3,” said the minority, citing a 1994 decision on term limits, “would imperil the Framers’ vision of a Federal Government directly responsible to the people”. 

This stark contrast echoes the infamous disconnect between nearly unanimous media predictions of an easy victory for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the results of the election itself. What’s worse is that since being caught off guard by Trump’s win, the media broadly doubled down on excluding voices of dissent. This exposed an industry characterised by two qualities journalists traditionally found shameful: bias and inaccuracy. 

Ideally, today’s media would have assured its readers and viewers that Colorado’s case involved a novel legal theory that would likely run into trouble, even with liberal justices. 

Instead, Colorado’s Supreme Court and its Secretary of State were treated like paragons of legal genius by journalists and their anti-Trump sources. Revisiting the coverage reveals a clear and resounding press consensus on the case.

When 9-0 decisions come from a deeply-divided SCOTUS, flying in the face of expectations set by the media’s chorus of experts, we’ll at least know not to blame MAGA-addled simpletons breathlessly bending the Constitution to serve their glorious leader.

Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist and co-host of Counter Points.