Former President Donald J. Trump is ineligible to hold office again, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, accepting the argument that the 14th Amendment disqualifies him in an explosive decision that could upend the 2024 election.
In a lengthy ruling that ordered Colorado's Secretary of State to exclude Trump from the state's Republican primary ballot, the justices overturned a Denver district judge's conclusion last month that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies to persons who have participated in an insurrection against the Constitution after having taken an oath to support him in office, did not apply to the presidency.
They affirmed the district judge's other key conclusions: that Trump's actions before and during January 6, 2021 constituted participation in an insurrection, and that the courts had the authority to enforce Section 3 against a person whom the Congress had not specifically designated.
“The majority of the court holds that President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of president under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court wrote in a 4-3 ruling. “Because “Because he is disqualified, it would be an unlawful act under the Election Code for the Colorado Secretary of State to include him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot.”
“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” the majority wrote. “We are aware of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us. Likewise, we are aware of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by the public reaction to the decisions that the law requires us to make.
Trump will appeal to the US Supreme Court, his campaign said in a statement.
Tuesday's ruling applies only to Colorado, but if the Supreme Court were to uphold it, it could be disqualified more broadly. The Colorado Supreme Court stayed its ruling until January 4, 2024, to give Trump time to appeal to the US Supreme Court. If he does so, the ruling could be stayed for longer while the process plays out.
The Colorado Supreme Court is the first court to determine that the disqualification clause applies to Trump, an argument his opponents have been making across the country. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and New Hampshire were dismissed on procedural grounds. A Michigan judge ruled last month that the issue was political and not his to decide, and an appeals court upheld the decision not to disqualify him. The plaintiffs have appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Tuesday's ruling “is not only historic and justified, but necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement. His organization represented voters seeking to disqualify Trump.
The Trump campaign denounced the ruling.
“Unsurprisingly, the all-Democrat-appointed Colorado Supreme Court ruled against President Trump, supporting a Soros-funded leftist group's plan to interfere in an election on behalf of corrupt Joe Biden by removing the name of the president. President Trump from the ballot and remove the rights of Colorado voters to vote for the candidate of their choice,” said a campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung. “We have every confidence that the United States Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these anti-American lawsuits.”
The case hinged on several questions: Was it an insurrection when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election? If so, did Trump participate in that insurrection through his previous messages to his followers, his speech that morning, and his Twitter posts during the attack? Do courts have the authority to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment without congressional action? And does Section 3 apply to the presidency?
Judge Sarah B. Wallace, who handed down the district court ruling in Colorado, had said yes to all the questions except the last one.
Because Section 3 lists several offices but not the presidency, and because the presidential oath is worded differently than the oaths of the listed offices, Judge Wallace concluded that the broad phrase “officers of the United States” does not intended to include the presidency. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed.
“We do not place the same weight that the district court did on the fact that the presidency is not specifically mentioned in Section Three,” the judges wrote. “Most likely, the presidency is not specifically included because it is clearly an 'office.'”
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