Colorado’s top court finds Donald Trump ineligible for US presidency

In historic first, judges say Trump should not be on primary ballot because of his role in the assault on the Capitol.

Trump clapping. He doesn't look happy. HIs is standing in front of two US flags.
Donald Trump, who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, faces a raft of legal cases [Kamil Krzacynski/AFP]

Colorado’s Supreme Court has ruled former United States President Donald Trump is ineligible to run for the White House because of his role in the 2021 assault on the Capitol by his supporters and should be removed from the state’s primary ballot.

While the ruling only applies to Colorado, it marks the first time in US history that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars from public office anyone who “engaged in insurrection”, has been used to disqualify a presidential candidate and comes as courts in other states consider similar legal actions.

“A majority of the court holds that President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the Colorado high court wrote in its four-three majority decision.

“Because he is disqualified, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Colorado Secretary of State to list him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot.

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” they added.

The decision – which Trump’s campaign said it would appeal – drew immediate condemnation from Republicans.

The one-time property tycoon and reality TV star faces a raft of court cases, from criminal charges over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to mishandling classified documents, hush money payments in the 2016 election and fraud in his business practices.

Trump has claimed he is the victim of political persecution.

“We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us,” the Colorado justices said. “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.”

A lower court earlier found that while Trump incited an insurrection, for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, he could not be barred from the ballot because it was unclear that the 14th Amendment was intended to cover the presidency.

Noah Bookbinder of the campaign group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the original case along with a group of Colorado voters, welcomed Tuesday’s higher court ruling.

The court’s decision is “not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country”, he said in a statement.

“Our Constitution clearly states that those who violate their oath by attacking our democracy are barred from serving in government.”

Swift appeal expected

The Colorado court placed its ruling on hold until January 4 or until the US Supreme Court rules on the case. State officials say the issue must be settled by January 5, the deadline for the state to print its presidential primary ballots. The Republican primary is due to take place in March.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said they would “swiftly file an appeal” to the Supreme Court, which has the final say on constitutional matters.

Cheung claimed Colorado’s “all-Democrat appointed” panel was doing the bidding of a “[George] Soros-funded, left-wing group’s scheme to interfere in an election on behalf of Crooked [President] Joe Biden”.

The Supreme Court at the federal level has a six-three conservative majority and includes three judges Trump appointed when he was president.

Trump, who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, faces dozens of lawsuits under Section 3, which was designed to keep former Confederates from returning to government after the Civil War.

It bars from office anyone who swore an oath to “support” the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against it, and has been used only a handful of times since the decade after the Civil War.

“I think it may embolden other state courts or secretaries to act now that the bandage has been ripped off,” Derek Muller, a Notre Dame law professor who has closely followed the cases, told the Associated Press news agency after Tuesday’s ruling. “This is a major threat to Trump’s candidacy.”

The Colorado court decision brought swift rebukes from senior Republicans, including Trump’s one-time rival for the 2016 nomination, Senator Marco Rubio.

“The US has put sanctions on other countries for doing exactly what the Colorado Supreme Court has done today,” he wrote on social media.

The Colorado ruling stands in contrast with the Minnesota Supreme Court, which last month decided that the state party can put anyone it wants on its primary ballot. It dismissed a Section 3 lawsuit but said the plaintiffs could try again during the general election.

In another 14th Amendment case, a Michigan judge ruled that Congress, not the judiciary, should decide whether Trump can stay on the ballot in a ruling that is being appealed.

INTERACTIVE - Donald Trump four criminal cases-1692088265
(Al Jazeera)

The liberal group behind those cases, Free Speech For People, has also filed a lawsuit in Oregon seeking to remove Trump from the ballot there.

Both groups are financed by liberal donors who also support President Biden, who is set to run for a second term in office. Trump has blamed the president for the lawsuits against him. Biden has no role in them.

Three Colorado Supreme Court justices dissented in Tuesday’s ruling.

One of the dissenting justices, Carlos Samour, said in a lengthy opinion that a lawsuit was not a fair mechanism for determining Trump’s eligibility for the ballot because it deprived him of his right to due process, noting that a jury had not convicted him of insurrection.

“Even if we are convinced that a candidate committed horrible acts in the past – dare I say, engaged in insurrection – there must be procedural due process before we can declare that individual disqualified from holding public office,” Samour said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies