State Judge James Robert Redford wrote that courts don’t have the power to determine whether someone is eligible to run for office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. In addition, Redford ruled that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) does not have the authority under state law to remove candidates from the ballot based on that provision.
Redford issued three opinions, in response to two lawsuits brought by Trump’s opponents and a countersuit filed by Trump. His rulings came a week after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in a similar case that Trump could not be removed from the primary ballot in that state. Both lawsuits were brought by voters with the assistance of the liberal group Free Speech for People.
A Colorado judge is expected to rule this month in another case. Trump opponents have been bringing their lawsuits state by state in hopes of ultimately securing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that keeps the leading Republican candidate off the ballot in all states. The cases are moving quickly because caucuses and primaries will be held starting in January.
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Adopted in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to those born or naturalized in the United States and guaranteed civil rights to all Americans, including those who had been enslaved. The amendment’s lesser-known Section 3 was aimed at limiting the power of former Confederates by barring from office those who had sworn an oath to the Constitution and later engaged in an insurrection.
The Michigan voters who brought the lawsuit argued that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was an insurrection and that Trump participated in it by urging his supporters that day to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress debated certifying the election results.
They wanted the judge to order Benson to keep his name off the ballot. Benson said that she did not believe state law gave her the power to remove candidates from the ballot based on Section 3 but that she would abide by whatever the court decided.
In Michigan and other states, Trump’s attorneys argued the attack was not an insurrection, Trump did not participate in it and Trump told his supporters to act peacefully. In addition, they have contended Section 3 does not apply to the presidency and said Congress, not courts, should determine who is eligible to hold office.
The judge in his rulings wrote that determinations on whether presidential candidates are qualified to serve are to be made by presidential electors and Congress — not the courts. Leaving the issue to judges would raise the possibility of dozens of judges around the country issuing “partial or even totally conflicting opinions,” he wrote. The question of who meets the eligibility to serve as president is inherently political and should be decided by Congress, “a body made up of elected representatives of the people of every state in the nation,” he wrote.
The rulings apply only to Michigan, a swing state that Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020. Free Speech for People announced it would ask the Michigan Supreme Court to take up the latest decision quickly.
“The Court’s decision is disappointing but we will continue, by appealing this ruling, to seek to uphold this critical constitutional provision designed to protect our republic,” Mark Brewer, an attorney for the voters who brought the case, said in a statement. “Trump led a rebellion and insurrection against the Constitution when he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election and he is disqualified from ever seeking or holding public office again.”
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung cheered the ruling and noted no state has barred the former president from the ballot. In a statement he called the lawsuits “left-wing fantasies” that seek “to turn the election over to the courts and deny the American people the right to choose their next president.”
The secretary of state said in a statement that she was gratified the court agreed with her regarding how the state determines which candidates’ names can appear on primary ballots.
“As the court rightly notes, any consideration of a candidate’s legal eligibility to serve under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should occur after they are nominated or elected,” Benson said in her statement.
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