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Supreme Court Justices appear skeptical of keeping Trump off Colorado’s ballot

WASHINGTON D.C. (KRDO) -- During oral arguments Thursday in the United States Supreme Court case to decide whether Trump will appear on the Colorado ballot, most of the justices seemed skeptical of the decision to keep the former president off of the ballot.

“The consequences of what the Colorado Supreme Court did, some people claim, would be quite severe,” said Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

This case began when Norma Anderson, a 91-year-old former Colorado Republican legislator, filed a lawsuit with five other Colorado voters, claiming former president Donald Trump can’t appear on Colorado’s primary ballot because he engaged in insurrection on January 6, 2021, and violated the United States Constitution, specifically Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

That section states, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

A Denver district court judge ruled Trump did engage in insurrection on Jan. 6, however, she found the 14th Amendment didn’t apply to the president. Both sides appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled 4-3 to bar Trump from the March primary ballot because he violated the Constitution by engaging in an insurrection.

That ruling was stayed when Trump appealed to the United States Supreme Court which agreed to hear oral arguments Thursday. For two hours, the Supreme Court Justices heard arguments from both sides and posed many questions to Trump’s challengers, appearing to side with the former president. 

Trump’s attorney Jonathan Mitchell argued Section 3 of the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to the presidency. He also said the insurrection ban couldn’t be enforced without Congress first enacting a law to do so.

“Officer of the United States refers only to appointed officials, and it does not encompass elected individuals such as the president or members of Congress,” Mitchell said.

During oral arguments, there was little discussion of whether Trump engaged in insurrection. Chief Justice John Roberts said insurrection is a broad term and difficult to define, while Mitchell, Trump’s attorney, said Jan. 6 was not an insurrection but a riot. 

Some justices were also concerned about whether keeping Trump off the ballot was democratic. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said doing so would disenfranchise voters to a “significant degree.”

However, the biggest concern among the justices was the dangerous precedent keeping Trump off the ballot could set. Chief Justice Roberts said it could open the door for other officials to be removed from office. This comes as a number of other states have challenged Trump’s presidential candidacy.

“I would expect that a number of states will say, ‘Whoever the Democratic candidate is, you're off the ballot’ and others for the Republican candidate, ‘You're off the ballot,’” said Chief Justice Roberts. “It will come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election. That's a pretty daunting consequence.”

Trump said his team’s oral arguments were “very, very strong” and he is a “believer in the Supreme Court.”

“I hope that democracy in this country will continue because right now we have a very, very tough situation with all of the radical left ideas, with the weaponization of politics,” Trump said after oral arguments. “They weaponized it like it's never been weaponized before. It's totally illegal, but they do it anyway.”

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said she hopes the justices will “look at the facts with an open mind.”

“We are only here because there's an unprecedented situation: A president who decided that he would steal the presidency from the American people,” Griswold said after oral arguments. “I don't believe that the president is a get-out-of-jail-free card, and I hope the justices hold him accountable.”

Usually, it takes months for the Supreme Court to make a decision on a case. However, both sides are asking for an expedited process given Colorado’s ballots will be mailed out to voters on Monday. Colorado’s primary election is Mar. 5.

Griswold said if the justices rule Trump ineligible before the primary election, any votes cast for him would not be counted. He would also not appear on the November general election ballot, she said.

The Supreme Court Justices have three options. They could rule in line with the Colorado Supreme Court and disqualify Trump from the ballot. They could overrule the Colorado Supreme Court and keep Trump on the ballot. Or they could not make a decision and determine it is a political question for lawmakers and voters to answer.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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