Lawyers for N.J. tell judge to dismiss lawsuit aimed at keeping Trump off 2024 ballot

By: - October 25, 2023 7:14 am

Donald Trump has not yet tried to appear on New Jersey's 2024 ballot, so the lawsuit is "unripe," lawyers for Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way argue. (Alabama Reflector Photo by Stew Milne)

Lawyers representing New Jersey Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way want a judge to dismiss a complaint that seeks to bar former President Donald Trump from appearing on the 2024 ballot, saying in a new filing that it’s too early in the election cycle to declare him ineligible.

In a legal brief filed Friday, the attorneys note that presidential candidates seeking the nomination of a political party in New Jersey have until April 1 to file their petitions with Way, who is also the secretary of state and must determine whether petitioners are eligible to run in New Jersey. No petition to place Trump on the ballot has been submitted yet, the lawyers say. 

“Due to the speculative nature of the Complaint, Plaintiff is unable to show that the issue of whether the Secretary should accept a petition on behalf of Trump for the office of the president of the United States is fit for judicial review,” the 25-page filing reads.

The state says there are other major flaws in the complaint that are reasons enough to dismiss the case: Trump is an “indispensable party” to this action yet he is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, and the judge overseeing the case lacks jurisdiction.

Trump critics have filed lawsuits in multiple states seeking to block the former president from appearing on next year’s presidential ballot, using a novel theory to argue that his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol makes him ineligible to run for president under the 14th Amendment. 

John Bellocchio, a Mahwah resident, filed the complaint last month.

In Friday’s brief, the attorneys for New Jersey say Bellocchio improperly relies on Minnesota law in his bid to keep Trump from appearing on New Jersey’s ballot. New Jersey law does not permit Way to preemptively declare a candidate ineligible, they say.

The complaint is “based upon the possibility of future injury, which in turn, is based upon actions and decisions of third parties — primarily Trump — which may not occur,” the brief states. 

The brief lays out the process in New Jersey for determining whether a political candidate is eligible to appear on the ballot. First, candidates must submit petitions by a deadline, then objections to those petitions must be filed, then Way must resolve any objections, then Way makes a final decision, and finally any challenges to her decision must be heard by the Appellate Division.

“None of that statutorily authorized process has yet begun, let alone concluded,” the brief reads.

Bellocchio said he plans to appeal the state’s motion. 

“Their argument, which boils down to the ‘issue is not ripe,’ because candidate registration has not opened yet is absurd.  Donald Trump is a declared and registered candidate for President … in theory, this matter could have been filed the day after the insurrection to prevent Trump from accessing New Jersey’s ballot,” he said in a statement.

The legal theory behind the challenges to Trump appearing on next year’s ballot cites Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars from office anyone who has previously taken an oath to defend the Constitution and has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” Trump’s involvement in encouraging his supporters to riot at the Capitol, proponents of the theory say, disqualifies him from seeking the presidency.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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