Colorado Supreme Court rules Trump is ineligible for the presidency

A landmark decision argues the former president should be disqualified for his role in the January 6 attack

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 20 December 2023 10:16 GMT
Related video: Colorado Supreme Court hears whether to disqualify Trump from 2024 ballots

Colorado’s highest court has ruled that Donald Trump is disqualified for the presidency and should be removed from 2024 ballots, an unprecedented order finding him constitutionally ineligible from holding office over his role in engaging in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

A historic ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday was the first among any state supreme court to consider the question of his or any other candidate’s eligibility, following a wave of lawsuits challenging his presidential candidacy under the US Constitution’s “insurrection” clause.

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” according to the unsigned order from the court’s four-justice majority.

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

Three justices on the seven-member panel dissented.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling is paused until 4 January, the day before the Colorado Secretary of State’s deadline to certify the contents of 2024 ballots, to allow for an appeal.

Mr Trump’s campaign plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, among newly enshrined amendments enacted in the aftermath of the US Civil War, prohibits anyone who has sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding public office.

So far, no other courts have found Mr Trump ineligible. But after a week-long trial last month, a state judge in Colorado ruled that while the former president supported the insurrection, a ban from office doesn’t apply to presidents.

That ruling followed a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on behalf of a group of Colorado voters, who argued that Mr Trump had “failed” that test, rendering him “constitutionally ineligible to appear on any Colorado ballot as a candidate for federal or state office”.

Last month, Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace found that not only did Mr Trump incite the attack on the Capitol in an effort to block the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election, he also “engaged” with it.

Mr Trump “acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol with the purpose of disrupting the electoral certification,” she wrote.

But she determined that she could not remove him from the ballot, a ruling the former president considered a “gigantic court victory” despite the judge’s landmark affirmation of his role in the insurrection.

“Who could more easily subvert our democracy from within than a commander in chief, who has already tried to do so before?” Jason Murray, an attorney representing the challengers, asked Colorado Supreme Court justices during oral arguments earlier this month.

Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the ruling on 19 December is “not only historic and justified but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country.”

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

A statement from Mr Trump’s campaign spokesperson accuses the lawsuit and court decision of joining what the former president has broadly characterised as a Democratic conspiracy of election interference against him, as he faces four criminal indictments and a growing list of lawsuits and other legal obstacles as he seeks the GOP nomination next year.

“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision,” according to the statement from Steven Cheung. “We have full confidence that the US Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits.”

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