The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, December 19, that former US President Donald Trump is disqualified from contesting for the presidency under the Constitution’s insurrection clause and ordered the secretary of state to exclude his name from the state’s Republican presidential primary ballot.
The landmark decision from the divided Colorado Supreme Court that Trump cannot hold public office under the Civil War-era law is unprecedented, and it marks the first time a court has found him to be ineligible to return to the White House due to his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Never before has a court determined that a presidential candidate is disqualified under the clause, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
The ruling does not apply outside of the state of Colorado, and the state high court, whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors, paused its decision until Jan. 4 — one day before the deadline for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to certify the candidates for the state’s March 5 primary.
“We conclude that because President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary to list President Trump as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot,” the court’s majority wrote in an unsigned opinion. “Therefore, the Secretary may not list President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.”
Lawsuits challenging Trump’s candidacy have been filed in more than 25 states ahead of the 2024 election, though the Colorado case brought on behalf of six voters marks the most immediate threat to his campaign. National polls show Trump tops field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesman for his campaign said, setting up a high-stakes showdown over his eligibility to run just as voters in early states begin casting their ballots in the Republican primaries. In pausing its decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said that if the supreme Court appeal is sought before Jan. 4, its stay will remain in place, and the secretary will be required to list Trump on the 2024 primary ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
“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,” Steve Cheung, spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “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.”
The seven-member Colorado Supreme Court divided 4-3 on the ruling, with its majority reversing the trial court’s finding as to the scope of Section 3 to conclude that it encompasses the office of the presidency and one who has taken an oath as president.
The Colorado case hinged on whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars Trump from the nation’s highest office. The provision aims to prevent those who swore an oath to support the Constitution and engaged in insurrection from holding state or federal office.
In its ruling, the four justices in the majority acknowledged that “we travel in uncharted territory, and that this case presents several issues of first impression.”
“We do not reach these conclusions lightly. We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us,” the majority 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.”
The justices rejected claims from Trump’s lawyers that the breach of the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6 was not an insurrection and instead concluded that the record in the case “amply established that the events of January 6 constituted a concerted and public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the U.S. government from taking the actions necessary to accomplish the peaceful transfer of power in this country.”
In determining that Trump engaged in insurrection, the Colorado high court said there is “substantial evidence” that the former president was “laying the groundwork for a claim that the election was rigged” before the November presidenital contest.
Trump, the majority said, “continued to fan the flames of his supporters’ ire, which he had ignited” by making false claims about the integrity of the election on social media and in a speech outside the White House on Jan. 6
“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,” the justices wrote.
“Moreover, the evidence amply showed that President Trump undertook all these actions to aid and further a common unlawful purpose that he himself conceived and set in motion: prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election and stop the peaceful transfer of power.”
The high court found that Trump “did not merely incite the insurrection,” but “continued to support it” by continuing to urge then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally toss out state Electoral College votes.
“These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection,” the majority wrote.
Justices Richard Gabriel, Melissa Hart, Monica Márquez and William Hood were in the majority, while Chief Justice Brian Boatright and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria Berkenkotter dissented.
In his dissent, Samour warned that because other states differ from Colorado in their election laws, Trump will likely be disqualified from the presidential primary ballot in less than all 50 states, “risking chaos in our country.”
“This can’t possibly be the outcome the framers intended,” he wrote.