Filipinos know about insurrection – What my dad, Citizen Willie would say
My father, Willie Guillermo, born under the American flag in the colonial America that was the Philippines, had a birthday on Thursday, Feb. 8. He would have been 119 and thriving had he stopped eating pork at a reasonable age and gone vegan.
So, of course, he was in the back of my mind while I pondered all of this week’s important Trump legal developments.
Consider this odd coincidence.
When my father died, his death day was Trump’s birthday.
Would Trump’s political life die at a Supreme Court hearing on my father’s birthday?
The week started when the DC federal appeals court ruled that Trump is not immune from criminal prosecution for his actions related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Then on Thursday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Trump should be kicked off the Republican primary ballot in Colorado, based on the 14th Amendment’s Section 3 that bars people “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.
The language is pretty clear:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
Surely if the law was based on common sense, Trump would be covered by this constitutional provision when he held that rally on Jan. 6, 2021 and urged his followers to “fight like hell.” Even the Trump lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell, admitted yesterday that it was violent “riot.”
But then there’s that last line, the key to the whole graph. It allows that house of chaos known as Congress to play a decisive role.
One thing about my father. He was a betting man. He preferred horses, but if he were living, I’d suggest he’d switch from that wretched, cruel sport to betting on SCOTUS decisions.
It’s just as unpredictable.
Justices Kagan and Jackson
So if Willie Guillermo were listening in celestially to the SCOTUS hearing and handicapping the outcome, his ears likely pricked up when he heard more liberal justices, like Justice Elena Kagan, question whether an individual state could rule and impact all the others.
Would that be fair or even democratic?
And then my dad would wonder why his favorite, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, wasn’t getting into the merits of the insurrection itself. Filipinos know insurrection, after all. They were the original insurrectionists, revolutionaries fighting against the US imperial forces in 1899. I like those guys; I can tell the good insurrectionists from the bad ones.
Why wasn’t there more discussion about the mob violence, aided by guns and impromptu weapons like flagpoles, to thwart Capitol police, enter the Capitol itself and terrorize our elected officials?
It just didn’t come up as relevant in the argument.
Instead, Judge Jackson made it sound that perhaps the 14th Amendment’s section 3 wasn’t intended to be a broad catchall for all time, but that its original intent was limited to preventing confederates of the South from rising again, and that was that.
Kagan and Jackson seemed to join the mostly conservative justices who questioned if it should even be the Court’s role to decide this national issue instead of Congress.
Given the tone of the hearing, my dad would bet that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision would be overturned.
I don’t like that myself, as the language in the 14th Amendment seems clear to me, and I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an “originalist.”
But going this way on the Colorado case allows the court to reject the Trump immunity case, thereby giving SCOTUS that Solomonic shine of fairness.
The immunity case
As for the ruling by the DC Court of Appeals that rejected Trump’s claim of absolute immunity for criminal actions committed while president, my father would agree with the appellate decision wholeheartedly.
The court ruled that “any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
Hooray, he would say with an Ilocano accent. And he would have thanked Judge Pan’s questioning Trump’s lawyer last month about a hypothetical Seal Team 6 killing—a political assassination. It clarified for all that immunity for Trump would have been his license to kill our democracy.
But my dad would be on the moon with this statement by the court.
“Today, we affirm the denial,” the appellate judges wrote. “For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant.”
The key word is citizen.
My dad knows the rights of citizens are not insignificant. He knows because for so many years, he was denied that right. He was non-citizen Willie from the day he entered the country in 1928. He was considered a colonized American, an American national from the Philippines. He couldn’t vote, own land or intermarry. He had no rights until after World War II. That’s when he was allowed to become Citizen Willie.
Citizen Trump? He’ll have more rights than he needs.
I also know that though my dad would probably bet Trump prevails on the Colorado ballot issue, he’d be disappointed in the high court.
He’d have his doubts about a Supreme Court so willing to take away abortion rights and voting rights from women and people of color, but ready to uphold the rights of a bad insurrectionist.
That’s how Citizen Willie, a proud Filipino American, would feel. He’d be a little sad and fearful about how his fellow Americans were so willing to enable a man who would be dictator.
That’s how he’d feel on this, his birthday week.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for INQUIRER.net’s US Channel. See his micro-talk show on YouTube.com/@emilamok1