Lawsuit Aims to Disqualify Trump from Colorado Primary, Citing U.S. Constitution’s Insurrection Provision

by Chloe Baker
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On Wednesday, a progressive organization filed a legal complaint with the intent of disqualifying former President Donald Trump from participating in Colorado’s primary election. The lawsuit posits that Trump is not eligible to run for the presidency again due to a seldom-invoked clause within the U.S. Constitution that disqualifies candidates who have endorsed an “insurrection.”

The legal action, anchored on the 14th Amendment, could serve as the first step in what seems likely to become a judicial battle reaching all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the lawsuit on behalf of a mixed group of six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters.

This development introduces a new layer of complexity to an already turbulent 2024 Republican primary, in which the front-runner is also navigating four concurrent criminal prosecutions.

Various liberal organizations have urged state election administrators to disqualify Trump based on the provision that excludes individuals who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution from higher office. However, to date, none have acted on this recommendation, pending further legal clarity on the interpretation of this rarely used clause, which has been invoked only sporadically since the 1860s.

This most recent lawsuit distinguishes itself by being filed by an organization with substantial legal expertise and resources, raising the possibility of similar lawsuits being lodged in other states. This could set the stage for conflicting legal judgments that would ultimately necessitate resolution by the Supreme Court.

Jena Griswold, Colorado’s Democratic Secretary of State, has publicly stated that she hopes the case will offer clear guidance on Trump’s eligibility to run for public office.

The lawsuit argues that Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, along with his support for the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, clearly render him ineligible. Trump maintains that he has committed no wrongdoing.

The 14th Amendment, initially ratified in 1868 to ensure civil rights for newly freed slaves, has been employed previously to bar former Confederate officials from assuming Congressional office after the Civil War. The provision cited allows Congress to lift the ban, which happened in 1872 as political will to enforce the prohibition on former Confederates waned.

Legal scholars and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington assert that the amendment offers an unambiguous qualification for presidential candidates, alongside other constitutional requirements such as age and citizenship. However, the debate is far from settled, as the clause itself does not specifically mention the presidency and legal experts differ on whether Trump’s actions constitute an “insurrection.”

The legal complaint asks for a speedy resolution to ensure that the matter is settled before the Colorado primary ballot is finalized on January 5, 2024. Donald Sherman, Chief Counsel for the organization, emphasized the national importance of the issue during a teleconference with journalists.

A representative for Trump has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, warned that utilizing the 14th Amendment in this manner might lead the nation down a perilous path. He contends that removing a candidate could exacerbate the perception that the electoral system is flawed.

The 14th Amendment was invoked last year to disqualify a New Mexico county commissioner who was part of the January 6 Capitol intrusion. This marked the first use of the provision in a century.

Other progressive organizations have previously attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to use the clause against Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington stated that it plans to initiate additional lawsuits in various states and expects other groups to do likewise. Colorado was chosen as the venue due to its legal framework that permits direct court challenges to ballots, and also for its assembly of high-profile plaintiffs.

In a related note, Neil Gorsuch, currently a U.S. Supreme Court justice, upheld a previous ruling that barred a naturalized citizen from Guyana from appearing on Colorado’s presidential primary ballot, affirming the Constitution’s natural-born citizen requirement.

Note: This story has been amended to correct the name of the organization filing the lawsuit to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, not Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.

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