Maine's secretary of state is poised to issue a decision next week that could spur a citizen-led movement to keep former President Donald J. Trump out of primary elections nationwide, or contradict a landmark court decision in Colorado this week.
At a hearing last week at the Maine House of Representatives in Augusta, Shenna Bellows, the secretary of state, weighed three separate complaints questioning Trump's eligibility to appear on the state's Republican primary ballot. Two are based on the same section of the Constitution that the Colorado Supreme Court cited in its 4-3 decision Tuesday that found Trump cannot return to office because of his actions leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. against the Capitol was equivalent to participating in an insurrection.
Some form of challenge to Trump's eligibility has been filed in more than 30 states, but many of them have already been dismissed. Most are playing out in the courts, but in Maine (due to a quirk of its Constitution) the secretary of state intervenes first and voters file petitions, not lawsuits. His decision can then be appealed to the state Superior Court.
The Colorado ruling was the first in history to disqualify a presidential candidate from a vote under the 14th Amendment, which was written after the Civil War. One section of the amendment prohibits those who have sworn to “support” the Constitution from holding public office if they “participated in an insurrection or rebellion against the same” or if they had “given aid or comfort to their enemies.”
The Trump campaign has said it will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court; If the high court accepts the case, other challenges across the country are likely to be put on hold.
After the Colorado ruling, Ms. Bellows, an elected Democrat, invited lawyers from both sides in Maine to file supplemental briefs and said her decision would likely be made next week.
The Republican primaries in Maine and Colorado are scheduled for March 5, known as Super Tuesday because many states hold primaries that day. But states have to start sending ballots to service members and overseas voters 45 days before the federal election (Jan. 20, in the case of the March 5 primary), adding urgency to the situation.
If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump's appeal, the Colorado court's decision would not take effect on Jan. 4 as planned, and Trump would remain eligible to appear on the ballot there pending the outcome of the appeal, according to Colorado. state officials.
An appeal would also likely halt other efforts to keep him out of the polls across the country. But it was unclear this week what that would mean in Maine, where the process so far takes place outside of court.
Under Maine law, registered voters can challenge a candidate's ballot access by filing a petition with the secretary of state. The state received three such challenges over Trump's eligibility for the polls: one from a group of former elected officials and two from individual residents.
Mark Brewer, chair of the political science department at the University of Maine, said little attention had been paid to the complaints in Maine until the ruling in Colorado.
“Now everyone is looking to see where else this could happen,” he said.
The challenge in Michigan is also among those being closely watched. Lawyers for both sides have asked the state Supreme Court to rule next week, but the court could schedule oral arguments first or wait to see if the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Colorado case.
Similar lawsuits brought by a long-shot Republican presidential candidate, John Anthony Castro, have been dismissed by federal judges in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Florida, and withdrawn in a dozen other states.
Bellows, who was sworn in nearly three years ago as Maine's first female secretary of state, grew up in tiny Hancock, Maine, and served two terms as a state senator. She is the former executive director of the nonprofit Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
Dr. Brewer said he could not predict their decision, but noted that he would instead find it difficult to rule as the Colorado court did.
“Regardless of what he is thought to have done, the former president has not been charged with insurrection,” Dr. Brewer said in an interview. “Even if he had been charged, he still hasn't had his day in court, so in the eyes of the law, he is not guilty of anything.”
But Ethan Strimling, a former Portland mayor and Democratic state lawmaker who initiated one of the challenges with two former Republican state lawmakers, said the Colorado court's decision changes that equation.
“There is no truth to that argument anymore, because two courts have found that he incited the insurrection,” Strimling said, referring to the Colorado Supreme Court ruling and a lower court ruling that preceded it. “I think that creates great clarity.”
Trump's lawyers argued in their follow-up brief that the Colorado decision should be irrelevant to the Maine proceedings because the two challenges are separate actions under different laws and standards, and because the former president was not given a “full and fair opportunity.” to litigate the facts in Colorado.
Furthermore, they reiterated, the Secretary of State does not have the legal capacity to exclude Trump from the Maine elections.
“The Constitution reserves exclusively to the Electoral College and Congress the power to determine whether a person can serve as president,” they argued in a final report last week. “The challengers are effectively asking the secretary to strip those institutions of the power to resolve Section Three issues.”
While two of the three challenges in Maine focus on the 14th Amendment, the third, brought by Paul Gordon, a Portland attorney, argues that Trump should be declared ineligible for the ballot under the 22nd. Amendment, which says that “no person should be elected to the office of president more than twice.” The basis of his argument is that Trump has repeatedly claimed to have won the 2020 election.
Trump could “remove this obstacle” to qualifying for the election, Gordon said in his complaint, “acknowledging that he lost the 2020 election and repudiating all prior statements that undermine the integrity of that election.”
Nick Corasaniti, Ernesto Londono and mitch smith contributed reports.
News USA Today has a skilled online editor and content writer, boasting six years of experience in Media and Broadcasting. News, Finance, Sports, Travel, and Entertainment.