ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Efforts to use the Constitution’s “insurrection” clause to prevent former President Donald Trump from running again for the White House turn to Minnesota on Thursday with oral arguments before the state Supreme Court, a hearing that will unfold as a similar case plays out in Colorado.
Those lawsuits are among several filed around the country to bar Trump from state ballots in 2024 over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, an assault intended to halt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s win. The Colorado and Minnesota cases are furthest along, putting one or both on an expected path to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has never decided the issue.
The central argument is the same — that Section Three of the 14th Amendment bars anyone from holding office who previously swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it.
In the Minnesota case, the plaintiffs are asking the state’s highest court to declare that Trump is disqualified and direct the secretary of state to keep him off the ballot for the state’s March 5 primary. They’ve also broached the possibility of the court ordering an evidentiary hearing, which would mean further proceedings and delay a final resolution, something Trump’s legal team opposes.
“The events of January 6, 2021, amounted to an insurrection or a rebellion under Section 3: a violent, coordinated effort to storm the Capitol to obstruct and prevent the Vice President of the United States and the United States Congress from fulfilling their constitutional roles by certifying President Biden’s victory, and to illegally extend then-President Trump’s tenure in office,” the petitioners wrote.
Trump’s lawyers acknowledged in their filings that the question of whether Trump “is suited to hold the Presidency has been the defining political controversy of our national life” for the last several years. They’ve also argued that while the events of Jan. 6 devolved into a riot, they were not an insurrection in the constitutional sense.
Trump’s lawyers noted that the former president has never been charged in any court with insurrection — although he does face state and federal criminal charges for his attempts to overturn the 2020 results.
“Both the federal Constitution and Minnesota law place the resolution of this political issue where it belongs: the democratic process, in the hands of either Congress or the people of the United States,″ they wrote in one of their filings.
Some of Trump’s main arguments are that Minnesota and federal law don’t allow courts to strike him from the ballot and that the insurrection clause doesn’t apply to presidents, anyway.
“The riot that occurred at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was terrible. The January 6 rioters entered the Capitol for a few hours and fought with police. But as awful as the melee was, and as disturbing as the rioters’ actions were, it was not a war upon the United States,” they wrote in an earlier filing. “Ultimately, Congress counted the electoral votes early the next morning. No evidence shows that the rioters — even the worst among them — made war on the United States or tried to overthrow the government.”
The insurrection clause does not mention the office of president directly, but instead includes somewhat vague language saying it applies to the “elector of president and vice president.” That was an issue debated during the Colorado case on Wednesday, when a law professor, relying on research into the thinking at the time the amendment was adopted, testified that it was indeed intended to apply to presidential candidates.
That case already has delved into whether the Jan. 6 attack meets the definition of an insurrection and whether Trump was responsible for inciting the mob and met his responsibility as president to stop the attack.
The relative lack of case law on how to apply the provision means that both sides are having to reach back as far as 150 years to find precedents. Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, and it was ratified two years later.
The Minnesota Supreme Court justices have scheduled just over an hour for oral arguments Thursday. They’ll hear from attorneys for the petitioners, who include former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe and former Justice Paul Anderson, as well as lawyers for Trump, the Republican Party of Minnesota and current Secretary of State Steve Simon.
The Minnesota case was filed by Free Speech For People, while the Colorado case came from another long-established group with significant legal resources, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In Colorado, ballot challenges first go to a judge for a hearing and then can be appealed to the state Supreme Court. In Minnesota, they go straight to the high court.
Simon, the secretary of state, has asked the court to rule quickly so he can send instructions to local election officials about Minnesota’s March primary no later than Jan. 5.