(WASHINGTON) — Former President Donald Trump, who was indicted by the Manhattan district attorney on Thursday, can still be elected president — even if he is convicted — experts tell ABC News. But there are practical reasons that could make it a challenge, experts say.
Trump said recently at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that he would “absolutely” stay in the race for president even if he were to be criminally indicted.
“I wouldn’t even think about leaving,” Trump told reporters ahead of his speech on Saturday. “Probably it will enhance my numbers.”
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has characterized the probe as part of a “witch hunt” against him.
The U.S. Constitution does not list the absence of a criminal record as a qualification for the presidency. It says only that natural born citizens who are at least 35 years old and have been a resident of the U.S. for 14 years can run for president.
Constitutional experts also told ABC News that previous Supreme Court rulings hold that Congress cannot add qualifications to the office of the president. In addition, a state cannot prohibit indicted or convicted felons from running for federal office.
“Some people are surprised to learn that there’s no constitutional bar on a felon running for president, but there’s no such bar,” said Kate Shaw, ABC News legal analyst and professor at Cardozo School of Law.
“Because of the 22nd Amendment, the individual can’t have been twice elected president previously,” Shaw said. “But there’s nothing in the Constitution disqualifying individuals convicted of crimes from running for or serving as president.”
Shaw said that while incarceration “would presumably make campaigning difficult if not impossible,” the impediment would be a “practical problem, not a legal one.”
James Sampler, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra University, told ABC News that the Constitution sets the minimal requirements, but leaves the rest up to the voters.
“It depends on the wisdom of the people to determine that an individual is not fit for office,” Sampler said. “So the most fundamental obstacle that President Trump has in seeking office in 2024 is the obstacle that anyone has, but he has it in a different and more pronounced way — which is proving to the voters that the individual deserves the office.”
If Trump were to be indicted or convicted and prevented by law from traveling out of state, Sampler said, that would impose a practical limitation on his ability to travel the country and campaign — but it wouldn’t prohibit him from running.
Sampler also pointed out an irony in the electoral system, in which many states bar convicted felons from voting. According to the Sentencing Project advocacy group, 48 states have laws that ban people with felony convictions from voting.
“It is a sad day for a country that ostensibly values democratic participation and equality, that individuals who’ve been convicted of a felony can be prohibited from participating even as voters in our democracy, but a president convicted of a felony is still allowed,” he said.
Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School, agreed.
“You could conceivably have a situation where the president of the United States is not disqualified from being president … but can’t vote for himself,” Levinson told ABC News.
“The interesting thing about the qualifications like you have to be born here, you have to live here for a certain amount of time … all of that is kind of getting at the idea that we want you to be loyal to our country,” Levinson said. “But you could conceivably be convicted of crimes against our country, and still be able to serve as president.”
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