An ethics watchdog filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to bar former President Donald Trump from the Colorado primary, arguing he is ineligible for the White House under a rarely used of the US Constitution for candidates who supported an “insurrection”.
The lawsuit, citing the 14th Amendment, is likely the first step in a legal challenge that appears destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. The suit was filed on behalf of six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters by the officially nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
It will upend an already volatile 2024 primary campaign, in which the leading Republican candidate faces four separate criminal cases.
Liberal groups have demanded that top state election officials expel Trump under the clause that prohibits those who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution from holding higher office. None have taken that step, seeking guidance from the courts on how to interpret a clause that has only been used a few times since the 1860s.
While a few fringe figures have filed barely written lawsuits in a few states citing the clause, Wednesday’s litigation was the first filed by an organization with significant legal resources. This could lead to similar challenges in other states, raising the possibility of conflicting rulings that would require the Supreme Court to decide.
Advice to officials
Colorado Secretary of State, Democrat Jena Griswold, said in a statement that she hoped “this case will provide some guidance to election officials on Trump’s eligibility as a candidate for office.”
The lawsuit argues the case is clear, given President Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden and his support for storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The Republican has said he had done nothing wrong. in his actions.
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, helped secure the civil rights of freed slaves, and ultimately of all people in the United States. But it was also used to prevent former Confederate officials from becoming members of Congress after the Civil War and taking over the leadership of the government they had just rebelled against.
The clause cited in the lawsuit allows Congress to lift the ban, which it did in 1872 as the political will to continue banning former Confederates waned. This layout was almost never used thereafter.
CREW and law professors from both parties argue that the amendment is clear and constitutes a qualification for the president, much like the Constitution’s mandate that a candidate for the White House must be at least 35 years old and be a citizen by birth.
But others note that this provision remains highly uncertain and that no case involving this issue has yet been brought before the judges in Washington.
The clause cites a wide range of functions “under the United States” and specifies that the provision applies, including to “presidential electors”, but not to the presidency itself. There is debate among some experts over whether Trump’s actions constitute an “insurgency” within the meaning of the amendment.
Rapid resolution sought
In its complaint, CREW asked the court to expedite the case so it can be resolved before the state’s primary ballot is set for Jan. 5, 2024.
“We understand that this issue is of great interest in states across the country and needs to be resolved quickly to ensure there is greater clarity,” Donald Sherman, CREW’s chief counsel, told reporters during of a teleconference.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The 14th Amendment was used last year to dismiss a New Mexico county commissioner who entered the US Capitol on January 6. It was the first time it had been used in 100 years. In 1919, Congress declined to name a socialist, saying he had provided aid and comfort to the nation’s enemies during World War I.
CREW said it expects to file more complaints in other states and other groups may as well. He chose Colorado, its leaders said, because the state allows election challenges to be taken directly to the courts. He assembled a sizable list of plaintiffs, including a former Republican leader of both houses of the legislature and a conservative columnist from the Denver Post.
There was another reason, Sherman noted: In 2015, a naturalized citizen born in Guyana lost his case to be included in the state’s presidential primary ballot, having failed to convince a federal magistrate that the Constitution’s requirement that he be a natural born citizen was unfair. .
A federal appeals judge upheld the decision barring him from participating in the ballot. The judge was Neil Gorsuch, now a member of the United States Supreme Court.