Trump’s Involvement in Insurrection: Colorado Judge’s Controversial Decision

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The situation marks history in ballot eligibility. (Image Credit: ABC)

In a recent legal development, Colorado Judge Sarah B. Wallace delivered a pivotal ruling on Friday, asserting that former President Donald Trump actively participated in the insurrection that unfolded on January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. This finding, however, did not lead to an immediate exclusion of Trump from the state’s primary ballot. The judge cited uncertainties regarding whether a Constitutional amendment from the Civil War era, which bars insurrectionists from holding public office, specifically applies to the presidency.

The lawsuit prompting this legal confrontation was initiated by a left-leaning group on behalf of Republican and independent Colorado voters. The lawsuit contended that Trump’s actions during the Capitol attack violated a clause in the 14th Amendment, which prohibits individuals from holding office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution.

Judge Wallace’s ruling is the third in a little over a week against lawsuits aiming to remove Trump from the ballot by invoking Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Minnesota Supreme Court recently held that Trump could remain on the primary ballot, emphasizing the political parties’ autonomy in candidate selection. In contrast, a Michigan judge ruled that Congress is the appropriate forum for deciding whether Section 3 applies to Trump.

Despite acknowledging that Trump did “engage in insurrection” on January 6, Judge Wallace rejected the argument that his actions were protected free speech. While such a finding would typically lead to disqualification under Section 3, the judge expressed reluctance to apply it to a presidential candidate. Section 3 does not explicitly mention the presidency, referring instead to “elector of President and Vice President,” along with civil and military offices.

Part of the court’s decision, as articulated by Judge Wallace in the 102-page ruling, stems from a reluctance to embrace an interpretation that would disqualify a presidential candidate without a clear indication of such intent in Section 3.

The Trump campaign’s spokesperson, Steven Cheung, labeled the ruling as “another nail in the coffin of the un-American ballot challenges,” accusing Democrats of engaging in cynical and blatant political interference in the upcoming presidential election.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group behind the lawsuit, announced their intention to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. Attorney Mario Nicolais, representing the voters who brought the lawsuit, expressed satisfaction with the court’s finding that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection. The focus of the appeal is expected to address the sole legal issue of whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to insurrectionist presidents.

Regardless of the outcome in Colorado or other states where similar cases may emerge, legal experts anticipate that the question ultimately will reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Notably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. In the Michigan case, the group Free Speech for People, which is also suing, filed an appeal in state court.

The significance of Judge Wallace’s finding that Trump engaged in insurrection has not gone unnoticed by legal observers. Derek Muller, a Notre Dame law professor closely following the case, described it as a “stunning holding” for a court to conclude that a former president engaged in insurrection against the United States. The possibility of a court barring Trump from the ballot on appeal is considered substantial.

Trump himself has characterized attempts to remove him from the ballot as “election interference” funded by “dark money” Democratic groups. His legal defense maintains that on January 6, he was exercising his First Amendment rights, denying any incitement of insurrection, and arguing that Section 3 was not intended to apply to presidential candidates.

The heart of the legal debate revolves around the interpretation of Section 3, historically aimed at former Confederates after the Civil War. Judge Wallace’s decision, rooted in 150-year-old records, highlights tensions between interpretations and a lack of definitive guidance in the text or historical sources. Legal historians note that Section 3 gained renewed attention following the Capitol attack on January 6, sparking a fresh exploration of this long-overlooked constitutional provision.

Recent cases against Trump signify a renewed interest in this long-ignored provision, particularly gaining attention after the events of January 6. The group Free Speech For People, which filed challenges in Minnesota and Michigan, also attempted to remove Republican Representatives Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene from the ballot in 2022 by citing Section 3. However, the case against Cawthorn became moot when he lost his primary, and a judge ruled against the lawsuit seeking to oust Greene.

Notably, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington successfully used Section 3 to remove a rural New Mexico County Commissioner who entered the Capitol on January 6 and was later convicted of a misdemeanor. The evolving legal landscape surrounding Section 3 indicates a renewed scrutiny of its implications and the potential far-reaching consequences for political figures implicated in acts deemed insurrectionist.

Written by Paula Onuoha

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