In a landmark decision, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that former president Donald Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state’s primary ballot next year.
The Justices’ 4-3 ruling concludes that Trump engaged in an insurrection with his words and actions around the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and therefore cannot hold the nation’s highest office again.
“We are also cognizant that we travel in uncharted territory,” wrote Colorado’s Supreme Court in its unsigned 213-page decision.
This is the first time a state’s high court has concluded the 14th Amendment’s Civil War-era Disqualification Clause applies to both the office of the presidency and the actions of the former president. Courts in Minnesota and Michigan dismissed similar complaints.
“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” wrote the Justices. “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.”
In a statement, the Trump campaign called the ruling "a completely flawed decision" that took away "the rights of Colorado voters to vote for the candidate of their choice," and said it would swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
"We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits," said Stephen Cheung, a campaign spokesman.
If the highest court agrees to hear the case, and if it is still in process when Colorado’s ballot hits its certification deadline on Jan. 5, the Justices ordered that Trump’s name should be included on the GOP primary ballot, ahead of the court’s final decision.
Three members of the court — Chief Justice Brian Boatright, and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria E. Berkenkotter — filed dissents. All seven members of Colorado’s highest court were appointed by Democratic governors, though they first went through a bipartisan nomination process.
The ruling overturns the finding of a district court judge that the Disqualification Clause does not cover the office of the presidency. It also reaffirms that, under Colorado law, the court has jurisdiction to bar disqualified candidates from the Republican Party’s primary ballot. They also concluded that the judicial branch is empowered to apply the clause.
“Congress does not need to pass implementing legislation for Section Three’s disqualification provision to attach,” the ruling states. “Section Three is, in that sense, self-executing.”
This tactic has been tried in other states, but none so far have reached Colorado's conclusion
The lawsuit was initiated by liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on behalf of six Colorado voters, four Republicans and two unaffiliated. The group includes some prominent names from Colorado politics, such as former Republican state Sen. Norma Anderson, who is in her 90s.
CREW successfully used the same argument to block a county commissioner in New Mexico from holding public office after participating in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Similar lawsuits have been launched by CREW and other groups in several states. However, cases in Minnesota and Michigan were dismissed largely because the courts there said they didn’t have the legal authority to adjudicate who a state party puts on the ballot, as long as they meet the party’s rules for qualifying. Michigan’s court also said Trump’s removal would require congressional action.
Within hours of the ruling coming out, the Trump campaign had sent a fundraising email to supporters, urging them to "join the fight to keep my name on the 2024 ballot and peacefully defend YOUR right to vote.”
Colorado’s three justices who filed dissents opposed the ruling on different grounds.
Justice Berkenkotter concluded Colorado’s judiciary does not have the jurisdiction to decide Section Three claims. Justice Samour argued that disqualifying Trump from the ballot, when he has yet to be criminally convicted of anything, would deny him due process.
“I recognize the need to defend and protect our democracy against those who seek to undermine the peaceful transfer of power. And I embrace the judiciary’s solemn role in upholding and applying the law,” wrote Samour. “But that solemn role necessarily includes ensuring our courts afford everyone who comes before them (in criminal and civil proceedings alike) due process of law.”
Due process concerns were also echoed in Justice Boatright’s dissent, which concluded there wasn’t enough time for the court to decide such a subjective and consequential election case. He noted it takes a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Congress to overturn a Section Three disqualification.
“Such a high bar indicates that an expedited hearing absent any discovery procedures and with a preponderance of the evidence standard is not the appropriate means for adjudicating a matter of this magnitude,” wrote Boatright.
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