Supreme Court to hear Trump appeal of Colorado ballot disqualification

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Reno, Nev., Dec. 17, 2023. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Trump's appeal of a judicial decision in Colorado.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Reno, Nev., Dec. 17, 2023. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Trump's appeal of a judicial decision in Colorado. (Carlos Barria, Reuters)

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Donald Trump's appeal of a judicial decision barring the former president from the state's Republican primary ballot, taking up a politically explosive case with major implications for the 2024 presidential election.

At issue is the Colorado Supreme Court's Dec. 19 ruling disqualifying Trump from the state's Republican primary ballot based on language in the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment for engaging in insurrection, involving the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol.

The justices made their decision to hear the case with unusual speed. Trump, the frontrunner for his party's nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election, filed his appeal on Wednesday. The state Republican Party on Dec. 27 also appealed the ruling.

The state court, acting in a challenge to Trump by Republican and unaffiliated voters in Colorado, found Trump ineligible for the presidency under a constitutional provision that bars anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" from holding public office, and therefore barred him from appearing on the primary ballot. The Colorado primary is scheduled for March 5.

The Colorado case thrusts the Supreme Court — whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices appointed by Trump — into the unprecedented and politically fraught effort to invalidate Trump's bid to reclaim the White House.

Many Republicans have decried the disqualification as election interference, while proponents of disqualification have said holding Trump constitutionally accountable for an insurrection supports democratic values. Trump already faces criminal charges in two cases related to his effort to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Trump also has appealed to a Maine state court a decision by that state's top election official barring him from the primary ballot under the same constitutional provision at issue in the Colorado case.

While the Colorado case could hamper Trump's bid to win back the presidency, it also has major implications for the justices. Given the political nature of the dispute, they run the risk of appearing partisan whichever way they lean.

Their action will shape a wider effort to disqualify Trump from other state ballots as the 2024 election draws closer. Colorado and Maine are both Democratic-leaning states. Nonpartisan U.S. political analysts forecast that both states are unlikely to back a Republican presidential candidate on Nov. 5. But there are efforts underway in other states — including competitive Michigan — that could shape the election's outcome.

The Colorado court's ruling marked the first time in history that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — the so-called disqualification clause — was used to deem a presidential candidate ineligible.

Section 3 bars from holding office any "officer of the United States" who took an oath "to support the Constitution of the United States" and then "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

Among other arguments, Trump's lawyers have said that Section 3 does not apply to U.S. presidents, that the question of presidential eligibility is reserved to Congress, and that he did not participate in an insurrection.

The Republican and unaffiliated voters who sued to disqualify Trump from the ballot disagree. In a filing on Thursday, they emphasized the lower court's findings that Trump's intentional "mobilizing, inciting, and encouraging" of an armed mob to attack the Capitol meets the legal definition in Section 3.

"This attack was an 'insurrection' against the Constitution by any standard," they said in the filing.

The plaintiffs are backed by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.

The Jan. 6 attack was an attempt by Trump's supporters to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden, which Trump falsely claims was the result of fraud.

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U.S. electionsJan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionPoliticsU.S.
Andrew Chung and John Kruzel


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