US Supreme Court to hear Trump appeal of Colorado ballot disqualification
The US Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Donald Trump's appeal of a judicial decision barring the former president from Colorado'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 19 December ruling disqualifying Trump from the state's primary ballot based on language in the US Constitution's 14th Amendment for engaging in insurrection, involving the 6 January 2021 attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.
The justices took up the case with unusual speed. Trump, the frontrunner for his party's nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 5 November US election, filed his appeal on Wednesday. The justices indicated they would fast-track a decision, scheduling oral arguments for 8 February. The Colorado Republican primary is scheduled for 5 March.
The state court, acting in a challenge to Trump by Republican and unaffiliated voters in Colorado, found him ineligible for the presidency under a constitutional provision that bars anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" from holding public office, barring him from the primary ballot.
The US Supreme Court did not act on a separate appeal of the state court's decision by the Colorado Republican Party.
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 by his detractors to invalidate his campaign to reclaim the White House.
Trump's spokesperson Steven Cheung praised the court's decision to hear the case, characterising the disqualification efforts as "part of a well-funded effort by left-wing political activists hell-bent on stopping the lawful re-election of President Trump this November, even if it means disenfranchising voters".
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said people in her state and around the United States "deserve clarity on whether someone who engaged in insurrection may run for the country's highest office".
Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group representing the challengers to Trump, added: "We're glad that the Supreme Court will definitively decide whether Donald Trump can be on the ballot. We look forward to presenting our case and ensuring the Constitution is upheld."
Many Republicans have decried the disqualification drive as election interference, while proponents of disqualification have said holding Trump constitutionally accountable for an insurrection supports democratic values. Trump faces criminal charges in two cases related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 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 Colorado.
High stakes for Supreme Court
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. Colorado and Maine are Democratic-leaning states. Non-partisan political analysts forecast that both are unlikely to back a Republican presidential candidate in the general election. But there are efforts underway in other states – including highly competitive Michigan – that could shape the election's outcome.
The Colorado ruling marked the first time 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 gave "aid or comfort to the enemies thereof".
The amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the American Civil War of 1861-1865 in which Southern states that allowed the practice of slavery rebelled in a bid for secession.
Among other arguments, Trump's lawyers have said that Section 3 does not apply to US presidents, that the question of presidential eligibility is reserved to Congress, and that he did not participate in an insurrection.
The Colorado court's decision marked "the first time in the history of the United States that the judiciary has prevented voters from casting ballots for the leading major-party presidential candidate," Trump's appeal stated.
The Republican and unaffiliated voters who sued to disqualify Trump from the ballot disagreed. In a filing on Thursday, they emphasized the lower court's findings that Trump's intentional "mobilising, 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.
Trump's supporters attacked the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's election victory. Trump gave an incendiary speech before the attack, repeating his false claims of widespread voting fraud.
Biden in a speech in Pennsylvania on Friday cast Trump as a threat to American democracy, one of the themes of his re-election campaign. Biden specifically made reference to Trump's speech before the Capitol riot, whose three-year anniversary is on Saturday.
Trump offered a withering response, calling his Democratic rival's remarks "pathetic" and "fear-mongering".
"Biden's record is an unbroken streak of weakness, incompetence, corruption and failure… That's why Crooked Joe is staging a pathetic, fear-mongering campaign event in Pennsylvania today," Trump told supporters in Sioux Center, Iowa.