Colorado Supreme Court bars former President Trump from state’s 2024 ballot under insurrection clause of Constitution

December 19, 2023, 5:26 pm
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, front, questions an attorney as Justice William W. Hood, III, looks on during a hearing before the court on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Denver (AP Photo/David Zalubowski).

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered former President Donald Trump to be barred from the state’s 2024 presidential ballot under a Civil War-era insurrection clause, in a historic ruling certain to be promptly appealed to the nation’s highest court.

Six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters, backed by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a lawsuit in September alleging that Trump’s actions in relation to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol disqualify him from office under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Section 3 of the amendment, ratified in 1868 and enforced in only a handful of cases in the last 150 years, prohibits a person who “engaged in insurrection” after taking an oath to support the Constitution from holding office again.

“A majority of the court holds that President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court wrote in its ruling. “Because he is disqualified, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Colorado Secretary of State to list him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot.”

In the court’s 4-3 decision, Justices Monica Márquez, William Hood, Richard Gabriel and Melissa Hart made up the majority, while Chief Justice Brian Boatright and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria Berkenkotter dissented. All seven justices on the state Supreme Court were appointed by Democratic governors.

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” justices in the majority wrote. “We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us. We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”

The ruling, however, includes a stay of the court’s order that will last until Jan. 4, or until the outcome of a widely anticipated appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is decided.

“If review is sought in the Supreme Court before the stay expires on Jan. 4, 2024, then the stay shall remain in place, and the Secretary will continue to be required to include President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, until the receipt of any order or mandate from the Supreme Court,” the ruling said.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat and outspoken Trump critic, has declined to take a position on the former president’s ballot eligibility, and her office has held off on certifying his candidacy “pending a determination from the courts.”

“Jan. 5 is the statutory deadline to certify the Presidential Primary Ballot,” a spokesperson for Griswold said Tuesday. “The Secretary will follow whatever Court guidance is in place when that date arrives.”

‘Historic and justiified’

The court’s decision followed a flurry of amicus briefs and oral arguments before the justices earlier this month. It overturned the key part of a Nov. 17 ruling by Denver District Court Judge Sarah B. Wallace, who ruled that although Trump “engaged in insurrection,” Section 3 of the 14th Amendment did not apply to the office of president, and ordered Griswold to place Trump on the ballot.

Similar challenges in several other states, including Minnesota and Michigan, have been rejected by the courts. But Colorado was singled out by CREW as a “good venue” for a 14th Amendment case because of provisions in its election code requiring only candidates who are eligible to assume office to be placed on the ballot.

In a press release, CREW president Noah Bookbinder said that Tuesday’s ruling “is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country.”

“Our Constitution clearly states that those who violate their oath by attacking our democracy are barred from serving in government,” Bookbinder said. “It has been an honor to represent the petitioners, and we look forward to ensuring that this vitally important ruling stands.”

Dozens of Republican state attorneys general and party officials petitioned the court in amicus briefs this month to dismiss the 14th Amendment claims, which they said would lead to an “unworkable patchwork of eligibility requirements for President.”

Trump was indicted earlier this year by federal prosecutors who allege that his “pervasive and destabilizing lies” about the results of the 2020 election “targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government.” Since announcing that he would seek the presidency again in 2024, he has maintained a substantial polling lead over his rivals for the GOP nomination.

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung called the ruling part of a “scheme to interfere in an election on behalf of Crooked Joe Biden.”

“We will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision. We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these un-American lawsuits.”

Colorado’s 2024 presidential primary is scheduled for “Super Tuesday,” March 5.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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