May 23, 2024  |  
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Kaelan Deese, Supreme Court Reporter

NextImg:Trump's survival of 14th Amendment lawsuits raises odds of Supreme Court intervention

Former President Donald Trump has so far survived several legal efforts seeking to erase his name from state election ballots, a slate of early victories that still could ultimately end up at the Supreme Court.

Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace handed Trump a victory Friday evening when she ordered he is eligible to appear on the state's primary election ballot when they are certified by the secretary of state's office on Jan. 5, 2024. The lawsuits pending in at least 14 states are similar in nature, seeking to bar Trump from office for his alleged role in spurring the Jan. 6, Capitol riot, under an "insurrection" clause of the 14th Amendment.


Former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York. (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

Trump's campaign was quick to celebrate Wallace's decision, which keeps him on the Colorado ballot despite a secondary finding that Trump engaged in insurrection during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot through "incitement," Wallace explained in a lengthy 102-page order.

"We applaud today’s ruling in Colorado, which is another nail in the coffin of the un-American ballot challenges," a Trump campaign spokesperson told the Washington Examiner Friday.

A total of three state courts — Michigan, Minnesota, and Colorado — have now ruled against liberal watchdog groups and citizens who have filed lawsuits seeking to bar the Republican primary frontrunner from ballot eligibility, and a similar challenge has also been dismissed in New Hampshire. Each of these lawsuits relies on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states no person shall hold an elected office or government position if they "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States.

Despite the relief expressed by the Trump campaign, the coalition of four Republican voters and two independent voters that sued in Colorado plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court within the next week, which could prompt a losing party there to appeal to the nation's highest court.

University of Notre Dame Law School professor Derek T. Muller told the Washington Examiner he believes the focus of the appeal will be on Wallace's finding that Trump engaged in insurrection.

"This is the first case to really get to the merits and that is 'Was January 6 an insurrection, did Trump engage in it?" And it made that finding, so that's pretty remarkable," Muller said.

"So even though he has won this case, that is he can appear on the ballot, there's a significant adverse holding in this case that I imagine other courts will be looking to, and I think will be the focus of the appeal," Muller added.

Judge Sarah B. Wallace reads her reasons for not throwing out the case during a hearing for a lawsuit to keep former President Donald Trump off the state ballot in court Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, in Denver.

Wallace wrote in her order that she was hesitant to bar Trump from the ballot or embrace a Section 3 interpretation that "would disqualify a presidential candidate without a clear, unmistakable indication that such is the intent." But she ultimately sided with intervenors on behalf of Trump for the eligibility question, saying the 14th Amendment "did not intend to include the President as “an officer of the United States.”

While the Colorado district court marked the most extensive assessment of Trump's 14th Amendment challenges on the merits, Muller said it's possible that other courts could later muddy the waters with a different holding, perhaps one that finds Trump ineligible to appear on the ballot.

"Even though he has technically won, [Trump] has this precedent lingering out there that another court might pick up in a different case," Muller said, adding, "I think this is heading toward the Supreme Court as we're watching these things come out in different ways throughout the United States."

Wallace's order said she took into account witness testimony from several people who testified in the trial earlier this month, including testimony from Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. Daniel Hodges, who was deployed to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Hodges testified "in detail" about being attacked with a variety of weapons including police shield, flagpoles, and stolen riot batons, according to her order, which said: "The Court gave weight to Officer Hodges’s testimony in finding that there was an insurrection and that the mob was there on Trump’s behalf."

Additionally, Wallace found that the report by the former House committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot was "conditionally admissible" in the case subject to the information elicited by Timothy Heaphy, the lead investigation for the committee, and Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX), who testified that Trump did not cause the riot.

Robert Delahunty answers a question under cross examination on the final day during a hearing for a lawsuit to keep former President Donald Trump off the state ballot in court, Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, Pool)

The judge also allowed testimony from Robert Delahunty, a retired law professor who acknowledged at the trial that he had never given expert testimony on any subject in court. Delahunty expressed doubts that Section 3 would be enforceable without a law passed by a state or Congress.

Trump is also not completely in the clear in Michigan, after a liberal group appealed a lower court's decision on Friday to the state Supreme Court after a judge ruled he could remain on the ballot next year.

Yet it's clear the Trump campaign are taking his district court victory in Colorado in stride, as his 2024 election campaign encouraged other anti-Trump ballot initiatives to cease their litigation.

"The American voter has a Constitutional right to vote for the candidate of their choosing, with President Donald J. Trump leading by massive numbers. This right was correctly preserved in Colorado today and we urge the swift disposal of any and all remaining Democrat ballot challenges," the campaign wrote in a Friday evening statement.


As well as the ballot eligibility lawsuits, Trump has four upcoming trials on the horizon. He is facing charges from the Justice Department in one case alleging he improperly handled classified records and obstructed efforts to recover them after his presidency, and a separate federal indictment over an alleged plot to subvert the national 2020 election.

Trump also faces upcoming trials in New York over allegedly falsifying records to hide an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, which he denies, and a racketeering indictment for allegedly conspiring to subvert the election in Fulton County Georgia. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 91 charges across four indictments.