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Minn. Supreme Court Dismisses ‘Insurrection Clause’ Challenge, Allows Trump On Primary Ballot

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to bar former President Donald Trump from running for office in the 2024 presidential election on the grounds that he “engaged in insurrection” and is not eligible to hold public office.

The state’s highest court declined to apply the 14th Amendment’s Section Three to stop someone from seeking the presidency, making it the first decision of its kind in history. It did, however, state in its decision that the decision only applied to the state’s primary, leaving open the chance that plaintiffs would attempt to remove Trump from the general election ballot in November, the Associated Press reported.

The decision is the first in a string of lawsuits brought by liberal organizations attempting to use Section Three to disqualify the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary by pointing to his involvement in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Trump has criticized the lawsuits, calling them “frivolous” attempts by “radical Democrat dark money groups” to sabotage democracy by getting in the way of his bid to win back the presidency.

The relevant provision prohibits anyone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it from holding public office. It was primarily employed to keep former Confederates from assuming leadership roles in state and federal administrations following the Civil War.

Like the Constitution’s requirement that a president be at least 35 years old, the plaintiffs in these cases argue that Section Three is just another prerequisite for the presidency. They filed in Minnesota because the state offers a swift procedure for contesting ballot qualifications, and its highest court will hear the case directly.

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Trump’s legal team contended that Section Three is powerless unless Congress establishes the standards and guidelines for its application, that the attack on January 6th does not qualify as an insurrection, and that the former president was only exercising his right to free speech. Furthermore, they contended that since the presidency is not addressed in the text, the clause does not apply to that office.

Other states are hearing parallel cases as well; in Colorado, a state judge has set closing arguments for the upcoming week.

Last week, a Colorado judge rejected Trump’s motion to halt voters’ efforts to bar him from appearing on the 2024 ballot using a provision of an amendment ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Denver District Court Judge Sarah Wallace told Trump’s lawyers on day three of the trial she wanted to let the proceedings continue to hear more evidence, including how Trump’s speech on Jan. 6, 2021, which proceeded a riot at the U.S. Capitol Building, was protected under the First Amendment.

Voters who brought the lawsuit argue the then-president’s rhetoric was a “call to violence,” though Trump specifically said during his speech supporters should “peacefully” protest at the Capitol ahead of Congress’ vote to certify the 2020 election for Joe Biden.

The liberal voters are trying to keep Trump off the ballot under a provision of the 14th Amendment, which says that persons are disqualified from holding elected office if the “engaged in insurrection.”

However, the provision does not prescribe how to enforce such a ban and it has only been used twice since 1919, leading many experts to argue that the effort to bar Trump is a legal longshot.

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Some takeaways from the trial in Colorado thus far include, per CNN:

— “The challengers are six GOP and independent voters, whose lawsuit has the backing of a DC-based watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They wrapped up their case Wednesday with testimony from one of the leading scholars on the 14th Amendment, who said the insurrection ban applies ‘broadly’ and covers ‘words of incitement.'”

— The expert, Indiana University law professor Gerard Magliocca, who has studied the amendment for years before the 2020 election, to include the debate over its language in Congress as well as Justice Dept. memos regarding how it was applied during the Reconstruction Era and applicable court cases, testified that he believes Trump is disqualified. He told the court he thinks the 14th Amendment was meant to be applied broadly, including against presidents, and that state courts have enforced it before.

— Trump’s witnesses, meanwhile, refuted arguments that he hoped his supporters would become violent and that he was derelict in his presidential duties. He also told the court that senior Pentagon leaders thought on Jan. 6 that the then-president “had authorized the National Guard troops we needed” during a meeting a few days before the incident.

— Later, Pierson, who worked between the Trump White House and groups that planned and held the Elllipse rally on Jan. 6, testified that she attempted to keep “fringe” members in the president’s orbit away from the official event.

“She said she worked to exclude right-wing conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Ali Alexander, who were ‘known for being over-the-top in their rhetoric, whether it be conspiracy or outright chaos.’ A deal was struck for them to headline a rally on January 5 instead, while Trump would speak on January 6,” CNN added.

— Before proceedings began, Trump lawyer Scott Gessler asked Wallace for a “directed verdict” declaring that plaintiffs had not proven their case and, therefore, Trump should not be removed from the ballot. She rejected that, however.

— Gensler also argued that there is no evidence “that shows that President Trump in any manner, in any way, incited an insurrection, incited violence, incited a riot” under a Supreme Court precedent that denotes speech is protected under the First Amendment unless it leads to imminent lawless action.

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