The judge separately ruled that Michigan’s secretary of state doesn’t have the power under state law to determine the former president’s eligibility for office based on the 14th Amendment, which says anyone who took an oath to uphold the US Constitution is banned from office if they “engaged in insurrection.”
The rulings mark a major victory for Trump, who recent polls show has a commanding lead in the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, as he fends off lawsuits in key states that argue he fueled the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and is therefore disqualified.
Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a related constitutional challenge against Trump in that state. A similar anti-Trump challenge is pending in Colorado, where a ruling is expected by the end of this week. Regardless of the initial rulings in these closely watched cases, most experts anticipate appeals that go all the way to the US Supreme Court, which could settle the issue for the entire nation.
Indeed, the liberal advocacy group involved in the Michigan case said Tuesday that it was filing an “immediate appeal” and would also ask the state Supreme Court to step in and hear the case.
The 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, says US officials who take an oath to uphold the Constitution are banned from future office if they “engaged in insurrection.” But the Constitution doesn’t say how to enforce the ban, and it has only been applied twice since 1919, which is why many experts view these challenges as a long shot.
These lawsuits have been filed by left-leaning advocacy groups, but a bipartisan array of legal scholars and former jurists have endorsed their attempts to disqualify Trump from office. Some of the cases have been filed by well-funded advocacy groups, and others were brought by little-known candidates or concerned citizens – but none of them have succeed yet in removing Trump from any ballot.
While these rulings preserve Trump’s spot on key GOP primary ballots, the rulings in Michigan and Minnesota kept the door open to future challenges regarding his eligibility in the November 2024 general election.
Judge points to Congress’ role
Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Redford said in his decision Tuesday that questions about Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection – and whether it constitutionally bars him from returning to the White House – should be addressed by elected representatives in Congress.
He ruled that the matter was a “political question” that shouldn’t be decided by the judicial branch. The judge also said he didn’t have the authority under state law to force election officials to examine Trump’s eligibility based on the 14th Amendment.
A court disqualifying Trump would’ve taken that decision away from “a body made up of elected representatives of the people of every state in the nation, and gives it to but one single judicial officer, a person who no matter how well intentioned, evenhanded, fair and learned, cannot in any manner or form possibly embody the represented qualities of every citizen of the nation,” Redford wrote.
He explained his reasoning in a trio of rulings: two cases sought to block Trump from the Michigan ballot, and a countersuit that Trump filed to preserve his position on the ballot. Redford heard oral arguments last week in all three cases.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, announced Monday the list of names for the 2024 presidential primaries in the Wolverine State – including Trump. State law requires Benson to publish a list of candidates based on press coverage of the campaign, and she said that this would be the final list, “barring a court order.”
Rejecting arguments from the anti-Trump challengers that this was the right time to disqualify Trump, the judge said it was far too early in the election cycle. Trump has yet to clinch the GOP nomination, and the 2024 general election hasn’t been held, he said.
Even if Trump wins the presidency, and then faces new lawsuits over whether he is disqualified from serving, the 20th Amendment spells out a process for what should happen if the president-elect is no longer “qualified” to serve: The vice president-elect would ascend to the presidency.
“As unsettling as such a process could be, it is the process provided for in the Constitution and is preferable to potentially having 50 or more separate trials … where the results could then be completely contradictory and which would then have to survive the various state appellate processes – all in the extremely short time before the various state primaries,” Redford wrote.
Both sides react
The Trump campaign celebrated the decision, which keeps him on the ballot in a pivotal battleground state that he carried in 2016 but lost to President Joe Biden in 2020.
It pointed out that the Michigan ruling came after similar victories in Minnesota and New Hampshire – cases that the Michigan judge cited in his opinion issued Tuesday.
“Each and every one of these ridiculous cases have lost because they are all un-Constitutional left-wing fantasies orchestrated by monied allies of the Biden campaign seeking to turn the election over to the courts and deny the American people the right to choose their next president,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said.
Free Speech For People, the advocacy group that filed the Michigan and Minnesota cases on behalf of voters in the two states, criticized the judge in a statement. It said Redford “adopted a discredited theory” about Congress’ role in enforcing the 14th Amendment and argued that the New Hampshire ruling he cited “relied on overruled cases.”
“The Michigan Supreme Court should reverse this badly-reasoned lower court decision,” said Ron Fein, the group’s legal director. “While our appeal is pending, the trial court’s decision isn’t binding on any other court, and we continue our current and planned legal actions in other states to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment against Donald Trump.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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