In an unprecedented move, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently dismissed a lawsuit that was aimed at preventing former President Donald Trump from participating in the 2024 elections. The lawsuit had made the audacious claim that Trump was ‘engaged in insurrection’ and was thereby ineligible for any public platform.
The state’s apex court, however, respectfully declined to enforce the 14th Amendment’s Section Three as a preventative measure against anyone aiming for presidency. While a first of its kind, the decision has proved critical in ongoing jurisprudence.
Although the decision taken by the court is specific to the state’s primary elections, it leaves open the possibilities for plaintiffs to make attempts at removing Trump from the general election ballot due in November, as reported by the Associated Press.
This decision has paved the way for a series of related denouements surrounding proceedings initiated by admittedly liberal groups. These groups levy the weight of Section Three in an effort to disqualify the Republican primary front-runner, citing his embroilment in the unfortunate and violent episode at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In response to these legal initiatives, Trump, unsurprisingly, voiced his dissatisfaction. He called the lawsuits ‘frivolous’ and a result of ‘radical Democrat dark money groups’ working toward a disruption of democracy. His discontent stems from what he perceives as an obstruction to his fight to regain presidency. The provision in question, presumably designed to uphold the Constitution, actually appears to hinder those who reportedly ‘engaged in insurrection’ from taking up public office.
Historically, this provision was largely employed to prevent former Confederates from taking up leadership roles in state and federal governance post the Civil War. The plaintiffs, however, argue that it should be viewed simply as another prerequisite for the presidency, akin to the Constitution’s stipulation that a president must be at least 35 years of age. The case was filed in Minnesota, considering the state’s expedient process for challenging ballot qualifications, coupled with its top court’s willingness to directly hear the case.
Trump’s legal arm, in their defense, posits that Section Three holds little weight unless supplemented with standards and guidelines for its application as devised by Congress. They further argue that the incidents which unraveled on January 6 do not qualify as an insurrection, and that Trump was merely practicing his right to free speech. Moreover, they assert that the clause ignores the office of the presidency and is thus not applicable.
In addition to the events unfolding in Minnesota, similar cases are being reviewed in other states. In Colorado, for instance, a state judge has scheduled closing arguments for the upcoming week. Just last week, a judge in Colorado dismissed Trump’s appeal to halt a voter-led initiative aimed at preventing him from appearing on the 2024 ballot, leveraging a provision of an amendment ratified post the Civil War.
Sarah Wallace, a Denver District Court Judge ruled to extend the trial proceedings in order to allow for additional evidence to be presented. This would elucidate the extent to which Trump’s speech on January 6, 2021, which ensued in a riot at the U.S. Capitol Building, would be safeguarded under the First Amendment. Plaintiffs argue that the rhetoric used by the then-president constituted a ‘call to violence’, despite Trump having asserted during his speech that supporters should protest ‘peacefully’ at the Capitol before the Congress’ vote to certify the 2020 election for Joe Biden.
The current plaintiffs aim to prevent Trump from being included in the ballot under a certain provision of the 14th Amendment, which ostensibly disqualifies individuals from holding elected office if they ‘engaged in insurrection’. The provision, however, does not provide clear implementation guidelines. Such an enforcement has only occurred twice since 1919. Several experts point out that it is a legal uphill battle to employ this effort for barring Trump.
The case in Colorado has generated some notable aspects, according to CNN: The plaintiffs compose of six GOP and independent voters, bolstered by a DC-based watchdog group titled Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The case concluded with the testimony from a leading scholar on the 14th Amendment, claiming the insurrection ban applies ‘broadly’, includng ‘words of incitement’.
The referenced scholar, law professor Gerard Magliocca from the Indiana University, who has spent years researching the amendment (even before the 2020 election), embraces its congressional debate and the Justice Dept. memos regarding its implementation during the Reconstruction Era, and associated legal cases. He testified before the court that in his belief, Trump is disqualified. His stance was built upon the belief that the 14th amendment was designed for broad application, even to the extent of including presidents, and that state courts have previously enforced it.
Meanwhile, Trump’s witnesses contested the narrative that he had encouraged his supporters to engage in violence or that he had neglected his presidential duties. They presented to the court that the senior leaders at the Pentagon believed that the then-President had sanctioned the required National Guard troops during a meeting a few days ahead of the incident on January 6.
In further developments, Pierson, who had previously worked with the Trump White House and organizations that planned and executed the Ellipse rally on January 6, testified that she had made concerted efforts to prevent ‘fringe’ members in Trump’s sphere from getting involved in official events. Asserting that these members, namely Alex Jones and Ali Alexander, were known for extreme rhetoric, she had negotiated for them to headline a rally on January 5, reserving Trump’s appearance for January 6.
Prior to the commencement of proceedings, Trump’s lawyer, Scott Gessler, made an attempt to seek a ‘directed verdict’. He posited that since plaintiffs had failed to substantiate their case adequately, Trump’s removal from the ballot should be negated. This plea, however, found no favour with the Judge.
Further, Gensler reasoned that no evidence substantiates that President Trump incited an insurrection, violence, or a riot in any way. He referenced a Supreme Court precedent that maintains that speech is protected under the First Amendment until it leads to an immediate violation of law.