Supreme Court viewed as increasingly likely to ultimately decide 14th Amendment question of Trump's ballot eligibility

 January 2, 2024

Former President Donald Trump was ordered removed from the primary election ballots last month in Colorado and Maine by the former's all-Democratic state Supreme Court and in the latter by that state's Democratic secretary of state, by way of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its "insurrection" disqualification clause

It seems likely that one or both of those rulings will be swiftly taken up and considered by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the state-level dispute over Trump's eligibility to appear on an election ballot or hold public office, according to the Washington Examiner.

And though the Supreme Court typically only seeks to resolve conflicts at the circuit court level and usually stays out of internal state law disputes -- other state courts and secretaries have oppositely ruled that Trump can remain on the ballot -- the justices may nonetheless feel compelled to act given the federal nature of the presidential election and constitutional amendment as well as to render a single interpretation of the 14th Amendment's disqualification clause.

Appeals already or soon will be filed

SCOTUSblog reported last week that the Colorado Republican Party wasted little time in filing an appeal of the state supreme court's Dec. 19 anti-Trump ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks a resolution to the current "constitutional crisis, national in scope," that is the question of former President Trump's ballot eligibility.

The Colorado GOP's attorneys warned of the potential "catastrophic effects" of the Colorado court's ruling being allowed to stand in that "any voter will have the power to sue to disqualify any political candidate" in that and other states and would "not only distort the 2024 presidential election but will also mire courts henceforth in political controversies over nebulous accusations of insurrection."

Meanwhile, ABC News reported that Trump and his attorneys are prepared to file their own separate appeals -- the Colorado ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Maine decision to that state's appellate courts -- within a matter of days.

Should the Supreme Court agree to take up one or both of the Colorado and Maine rulings for an expedited review, as seems highly likely, doing so would also almost certainly serve to effectively freeze the remaining pending litigation in a handful of other states with respect to Trump's qualifications for the presidency.

Colorado ruling "increased the likelihood" that SCOTUS will intervene

The Examiner reported that several legal experts expressed "confidence" that the U.S. Supreme Court would act quickly to address the issue of former President Trump's ballot eligibility under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was originally intended to prevent former Confederate officers and politicians from holding public office in the newly reconstituted United States in the aftermath of the Civil War.

University of Colorado law professor Doug Spencer told the outlet, "The Colorado case definitely increased the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene," but downplayed the significance of other state supreme courts ruling differently than Colorado on the matter and focused instead on the varying interpretations of the amendment and whether Trump needed to be formally charged and convicted of "insurrection" or merely deemed to have "engaged" in such rebellion.

"It's true that the Supreme Court often takes up cases when there is a divide among the federal circuits," he explained. "But the same is not true when there is a divide among state Supreme Courts. That is especially true when, as is the case here, the cases are decided on state law grounds."

Supreme Court could rule quickly, dodge the issue on procedural grounds, or not make a ruling at all

The Examiner noted that Albany Law School professor Ray Brescia said, "Ultimately this is just going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court," in large part because of the "different procedural postures" taken in separate states on the issue of the former president's ballot eligibility, not to mention the short time frame to resolve the issue in time for ballots to be printed ahead of the individual states' upcoming primary elections.

However, Brescia also noted the possibility that the high court could try to avoid delving into the merits of the 14th Amendment dispute and instead "rule on sort of narrow procedural grounds" so as to "duck the obviously politically charged question of whether the former president is barred by the 14th Amendment from running again."

He also floated the idea that the Supreme Court could also "slow-walk these cases for an indefinite period of time" until after the elections were over, thus rendering the issue moot, at least for the time being, given that Trump will still appear on both the Colorado and Maine ballots since the decisions rendering him disqualified were both placed on hold pending the inevitable appeals.

Brescia further noted that the burden for proving Trump should be removed from the ballot was far greater than that of keeping him on the ballot, and made a joking comparison of that task to the game of billiards as he said, "I think this is a triple bank shot where you're sort of trying to jump the cue ball onto a neighboring table."

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