Colorado Supreme Court removes Trump from 2024 ballot based on Constitution's insurrection clause

ByMarshall Cohen, Devan Cole and Holmes Lybrand, CNNWire
Wednesday, December 20, 2023
Colorado Supreme Court declares Donald Trump ineligible for presidency
The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday declared former President Donald Trump ineligible for the White House under the U.S. Constitution's insurrection clause and removed him from the state's presidential primary ballot.

In a stunning and unprecedented decision, the Colorado Supreme Court removed former President Donald Trump from the state's 2024 ballot, ruling that he isn't an eligible presidential candidate because of the 14th Amendment's "insurrectionist ban."

The ruling was 4-3.

The ruling will be placed on hold pending appeal until January 4, pending a certain appeal to the US Supreme Court, which could settle the matter for the nation.

The state Supreme Court decision only applies to Colorado but the historic ruling will roil the 2024 presidential campaign. Colorado election officials have said the matter needs to be settled by January 5, which is the statutory deadline to set the list of candidates for the GOP primary.

Colorado Supreme Court removes Trump from 2024 ballot.

"President Trump did not merely incite the insurrection," the majority wrote in its unsigned opinion. "Even when the siege on the Capitol was fully underway, he continued to support it by repeatedly demanding that Vice President (Mike) Pence refuse to perform his constitutional duty and by calling Senators to persuade them to stop the counting of electoral votes. These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection."

"We conclude that the foregoing evidence, the great bulk of which was undisputed at trial, established that President Trump engaged in insurrection," the opinion adds. "President Trump's direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevent what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary."

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In addition, the court rejected Trump's free speech claims, writing: "President Trump's speech on January 6 was not protected by the First Amendment."

Ratified after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment says officials who take an oath to support the Constitution are banned from future office if they "engaged in insurrection." But the wording is vague, it doesn't explicitly mention the presidency, and has only been applied twice since 1919.

All seven justices on the Colorado Supreme Court were appointed by Democratic governors. Six of the seven subsequently won statewide retention elections to stay on the bench. The seventh was only appointed in 2021 and hasn't yet faced voters.

Ample evidence has emerged over the last year of what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump campaign vows to 'swiftly' appeal

The Trump campaign says it will "swiftly file an appeal" of the Colorado Supreme Court's decision.

"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. We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits," Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement.

Trump denies wrongdoing regarding January 6 and has decried the 14th Amendment lawsuits as an abuse of the legal process. He is under federal and state indictment in connection with his attempts to overturn the 2020 election - and he has pleaded not guilty.

The ruling comes as a similar appeal is pending in Michigan, where Trump also prevailed. He has beaten back 14th Amendment challenges in several key states, while the challengers have pledged to keep fighting in the courts potentially even after the 2024 presidential election, if he wins.

Key findings

The court issued several key findings in its sweeping decision:

  • Colorado state law allows voters to challenge Trump's eligibility under the federal constitution's "insurrectionist ban."
  • Colorado courts can enforce the ban without any action from Congress.
  • The insurrectionist ban applies to the presidency.
  • The January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was an insurrection.
  • Trump "engaged in" the insurrection.
  • Trump's speech "inciting the crowd" on January 6 was "not protected by the First Amendment."

Chief Justice Brian Boatright, one of the three dissenters on the seven-member court, wrote that he believes Colorado election law "was not enacted to decide whether a candidate engaged in insurrection," and said he would have dismissed the challenge to Trump's eligibility.

"In the absence of an insurrection-related conviction, I would hold that a request to disqualify a candidate under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment is not a proper cause of action under Colorado's election code," he wrote.

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A group of Republican and independent voters filed the lawsuit, in coordination with a liberal government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. A district judge held a weeklong trial and issued a stunning ruling in November that labeled Trump as an insurrectionist but said the presidency is exempt from the vague ban in the 14th Amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court held oral arguments earlier this month, where the justices appeared divided at times. Some of their questions suggested they were open to the idea that the ban applies to Trump, while at other times, some justices were unsure if the trial court even had jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter in the first place.

CNN's Alayna Tree contributed to this report.

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