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‘What Sealed Trump’s Fate’

June 03, 2024

Kermit Roosevelt
Kermit Roosevelt

At TIME, Prof. Kermit Roosevelt writes, “State law that applies equally to all did what the special rules of the Constitution could not.”

At TIME, Kermit Roosevelt, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice, has penned “What Sealed Trump’s Fate,” emphasizing the important role that state law plays in our governance.

“We often think of our system of governance as defined by things the Constitution creates, structures like the Senate, the Supreme Court, or the electoral college, and processes like impeachment,” writes Roosevelt. “But the negative space matters too—and that is the background of state law. State law, not federal law or the Constitution, is the primary regulator for most Americans. State law creates the environment in which we all live; it is, you could say, in the air we breathe.”


In H.G. Wells’ science-fiction classic The War of the Worlds, aliens from Mars invade Earth. The military resists, but human technology is no match for Martian tripods and death rays. Within weeks, the aliens have routed the defenders and seem poised to conquer the planet. And then, mysteriously, they die. It turns out they had no resistance to the ubiquitous bacteria of our world. They were slain, Wells writes, “after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”

That’s what came to mind when I heard that a New York jury had convicted Donald Trump of 34 felonies. What seemed like an unstoppable force was brought low by the humblest of state laws. And while 34 felony convictions may in fact not stop Trump, the trial does tell us something important about the strengths and weaknesses of America’s constitutional structure… .

Roosevelt is the author of The Nation that Never Was: Reconstructing America’s Story — an eye-opening reinterpretation of the American story.

He works in a diverse range of fields, focusing on constitutional law and conflict of laws and has published scholarly books and articles in both fields. Roosevelt is also the author of two novels, and, in 2014, he was selected by the American Law Institute as the Reporter for the Third Restatement of Conflict of Laws.

Read Roosevelt’s full piece at TIME.