US Supreme Court appears skeptical of Colorado ruling in Trump disqualification case

By: and - February 8, 2024 1:45 pm

A majority of the justices, including liberal members of the court, expressed skepticism about a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court that said Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner, is disqualified from appearing the state’s presidential primary ballot. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments Thursday in a landmark case over whether former President Donald Trump should be barred from the 2024 presidential ballot.

A majority of the justices, including liberal members of the court, expressed skepticism about a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court that said Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner, is disqualified from appearing the state’s presidential primary ballot.

A main point of skepticism that emerged through the justices’ exchanges with attorneys for Trump and the plaintiffs was whether states have the authority to disqualify federal candidates.

Among other apparent objections to the Colorado decision concerned whether the constitutional provision at issue applies to the president, who can enforce it, the implications for democracy if a candidate can be barred from the ballot, the “disuniformity” that would result if states disqualified candidates using different standards, and the definition of “insurrection.”

The hearing concerned a Colorado Supreme Court ruling from December that found Trump to be disqualified from holding the office and ordered Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold not to include Trump’s name on the Colorado presidential primary ballot.

The ruling came in a lawsuit that was filed in state district court in September by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on behalf of six Colorado voters, who argued Trump is disqualified from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Section 3, ratified after the Civil War, prohibits someone who took an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again.

“Donald Trump tried to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election,” the lawsuit said. “His efforts culminated on January 6, 2021, when he incited, exacerbated, and otherwise engaged in a violent insurrection at the United States Capitol by a mob who believed they were following his orders, and refused to protect the Capitol or call off the mob for nearly three hours as the attack unfolded.”

The district court judge, relying on a five-day evidentiary hearing with expert testimony and extensive briefs, determined that Trump had engaged in insurrection but that Section 3 doesn’t apply to presidents.

Valarie Walker of New York City holds a sign reading “Trump Led a Riot” in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Justices heard oral arguments Thursday on whether former President Donald Trump should be removed from Colorado’s presidential primary ballot because of his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Ashley Murray/States Newsroom)

The Colorado Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling affirmed the district court’s finding that Trump engaged in insurrection but, in a reversal of the district court’s order, also concluded that Section 3 applies to presidents.

Trump appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in taking the case framed the scope of its review in broad terms: “Did the Colorado Supreme Court err in ordering President Trump excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot?”

Its answer to that question will have profound implications throughout the country that go beyond this year’s election. Efforts to disqualify Trump from the ballot have emerged in most states, and he has already been disqualified in Maine.

Critics of the lawsuit, even among some Trump opponents, have argued that disqualification of Trump would be a violation of democratic principles, and they say defeat at the ballot box is the best way to bar him from office. Proponents of disqualification argue that the framers of Section 3 intended it as a form of constitutional self-defense against precisely the kind of threat Trump represents and that the provision itself is meant to preserve democracy.

The plaintiffs include former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island Claudine Schneider, who now lives in Colorado; former Republican Colorado House and Senate Majority Leader Norma Anderson; Denver Post columnist and Republican activist Krista Kafer; Michelle Priola, Kathi Wright, and Christopher Castilian.

The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case sometime before Colorado’s March 5 presidential primary election.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: [email protected]. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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Quentin Young
Quentin Young

Quentin Young is the editor of Colorado Newsline.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff is a senior reporter for Colorado Newsline. His beats include the environment, money in politics, and the economy.

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