The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an attempt to block Donald Trump from the state’s GOP primary ballot next year based on the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” but said the challengers can try again to block him from the general election ballot if the former president wins the Republican nomination.
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.
The ruling is a victory for Trump, in terms of keeping his name on Minnesota’s ballot for the 2024 GOP primary, where recent polling shows he has a commanding lead. However, the Minnesota justices didn’t go as far as Trump’s lawyers wanted, which was to shut down the case altogether and keep the former president on the ballot for both the primary and general election.
“There is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot, or sending delegates to the national convention supporting, a candidate who is ineligible to hold office,” the high court wrote in a four-page ruling, which didn’t address Trump’s eligibility. Rather, it said, “there is no error to correct” at this stage.
Therefore, the court dismissed the case, but said it wouldn’t stop the challengers from “bringing a petition raising their claims as to the general election.” By dismissing the case now, the justices did not reach the key legal questions of whether the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was an insurrection and whether Trump “engaged” in that insurrection, disqualifying him from office.
The challengers – a bipartisan group of Minnesota voters – could appeal Wednesday’s decision.
The ruling said the case was being dismissed “as not to impair the orderly election process.” (The state’s GOP primary is scheduled for March 5.) There were no noted dissents in the court’s order, which was signed by Chief Justice Natalie Hudson.
At oral arguments last week, several of the Minnesota justices appeared skeptical of removing Trump from the ballot: Hudson said it might be prudent to exercise “judicial restraint,” while another justice nodded to the idea that the voters should probably be the ones who decide whether Trump returns to the presidency.
In a statement, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said the decision “is further validation of the Trump Campaign’s consistent argument that the 14th Amendment ballot challenges are nothing more than strategic, un-Constitutional attempts to interfere with the election.”
These lawsuits “should be summarily thrown out wherever they next arise,” Cheung said.
Similar anti-Trump challenges are still ongoing in Colorado and Michigan. Closing arguments are scheduled for November 15 in the Colorado lawsuit, which last week saw witness testimony from US Capitol Police officers and other key figures at a weeklong trial. The cases have been handled by left-leaning advocacy groups, but a bipartisan array of legal scholars and former jurists have endorsed their attempts to disqualify Trump from office.
The challengers – a bipartisan group of Minnesota voters – could pursue an appeal of Wednesday’s decision.
Regardless of the initial rulings in these cases, most experts anticipate appeals that go all the way to the US Supreme Court, which could settle the issue for the entire nation.
“We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, who represents the anti-Trump challengers. “However, the Minnesota Supreme Court explicitly recognized that the question of Donald Trump’s disqualification for engaging in insurrection against the U.S. Constitution may be resolved at a later stage. The decision isn’t binding on any court outside Minnesota and we continue our current and planned legal actions in other states to enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment against Donald Trump.”
The group’s statement noted that court didn’t rule in favor of any of Trump’s arguments against the litigation, but rather dismissed the case “on technicalities.”
Derek Muller, an election law expert at Notre Dame Law School who submitted a brief in the Minnesota case that was neutral on Trump’s eligibility but provided analysis of key legal questions, said Wednesday’s ruling “kicks the can down the road.”
“Political parties in Minnesota list nominees in the presidential primary, and the court here deferred to that process,” Muller said. “But the general election is a different matter. It’s not run by the party. So, the court is essentially inviting a new challenge later, ahead of the general election.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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