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Maine Joins Colorado in Determining Trump's Ineligibility for Primary Ballot

Maine Joins Colorado in Determining Trump’s Ineligibility for Primary Ballot

On Thursday, Maine became the second state to exclude Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot, as its top election official, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, determined that the former president’s post-2020 election actions made him ineligible to seek office again.

Conversely, California’s election official later announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the state, citing limited authority to remove candidates.

Secretary Bellows justified her decision by pointing to Mr. Trump’s role in the January 6 Capitol attack. A few citizens contested his eligibility, arguing that he had incited insurrection, thereby disqualifying him under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

In her decision, Secretary Bellows, a Democrat, acknowledged the unprecedented nature of denying ballot access based on the 14th Amendment but emphasized the extraordinary circumstances of a presidential candidate engaging in insurrection.

This move by Maine follows a similar ruling in Colorado last week, where the state’s Supreme Court decided to keep Mr. Trump off the Republican primary ballot.

These decisions in Maine and Colorado highlight national tensions concerning democracy, ballot access, and the rule of law. They also intensify calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the politically charged dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, denounced both rulings as “partisan election interference efforts” and labeled them a “hostile assault on American democracy.”

Just weeks ahead of the 2024 election’s first votes, legal battles are unfolding with lawyers from both sides seeking clarity from the nation’s top court on an obscure clause within a constitutional amendment enacted post-Civil War. This clause lies at the core of the efforts to prevent Mr. Trump from pursuing a third term in the White House.

While courts in Minnesota and Michigan have ruled in favor of allowing the Republican Party to include Mr. Trump on their primary ballots, Michigan’s Supreme Court recently affirmed that political parties should have the authority to determine the eligibility of presidential candidates.

In Oregon, where a similar group contested Mr. Trump’s presence on the ballot, a court decision is pending. Earlier challenges in Oregon were met with the secretary of state declining to remove him.

California’s Secretary of State, Shirley Weber, a Democrat, faced a Thursday deadline for certifying the official candidate list. Despite a late request from the lieutenant governor to explore removal options, Weber leaned towards keeping Mr. Trump on the ballot based on her interpretation of California law.

Donald Trump

These legal battles revolve around Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a Reconstruction Era provision aimed at barring Confederate officials from U.S. government service. This section disqualifies individuals who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office. However, the courts and Congress have provided little clarification over the years on how this criterion should be applied. As the legal challenges escalate, election officials and judges nationwide find themselves navigating largely uncharted waters, awaiting guidance from the Supreme Court.

The upcoming case is poised to be the most politically significant matter before the Supreme Court since it resolved the contested 2000 election in favor of President George W. Bush. The court’s current conservative shift, largely due to three justices appointed by Mr. Trump during his presidency, adds to the gravity of the situation.

Mr. Trump and his legal team characterize the efforts to exclude him from ballots as a sneaky maneuver by Democrats who are apprehensive about facing him in the electoral arena.

Advocates leading the disqualification initiatives argue that Mr. Trump’s endeavors to undermine the 2020 election warrant extraordinary measures to safeguard American democracy.

In Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, the official tasked with reviewing the petition, is the state’s first female secretary of state and a former state senator. Her background includes serving as the executive director of the nonprofit Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

In her 34-page decision, Bellows asserted that Mr. Trump’s petition to appear on the Maine ballot was invalid because he falsely claimed on his candidate consent form that he was eligible for the presidency. She contended that he was not qualified because, as she wrote, “the record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on Jan. 6, 2021, used a false narrative of election fraud to inflame his supporters and direct them” to impede the peaceful transfer of power. She further concluded that Mr. Trump “was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.”

Legal experts suggest that the Supreme Court’s decision will determine the expediency or prolonged nature of these challenges. If the Court rules that Mr. Trump’s conduct does not violate the 14th Amendment, it could swiftly resolve challenges in multiple states. Conversely, a more limited ruling on the Colorado case might permit Mr. Trump to remain on the state’s primary ballot, offering lawyers opposing his eligibility an opportunity to argue for his exclusion from the general election ballot.

Among the petitioners in Maine is Ethan Strimling, a former mayor of Portland and Democratic state legislator, along with two other former Maine lawmakers. They expressed support for Secretary Bellows’ decision, stating, “No elected official is above the law or our constitution, and today’s ruling reaffirms this most important of American principles. Secretary Bellows showed great courage in her ruling, and we look forward to helping her defend her judicious and correct decision in court.”

Mr. Trump has the option to challenge Ms. Bellows’s decision by appealing to Maine’s Superior Court within five days. The order will only take effect after the court rules on the appeal, which the Trump campaign plans to file soon. Both the Republican primaries in Maine and Colorado are slated for March 5, known as Super Tuesday due to the multitude of states holding primaries on that day.

Challenges to Mr. Trump’s ballot access have emerged in over 30 states recently, primarily through legal avenues. However, Maine’s Constitution presents a unique requirement, mandating registered voters to initiate the process by filing a petition with the secretary of state. Ms. Bellows considered arguments on three such petitions on December 15.

Following the Colorado decision, Mr. Trump’s legal team contended in new filings in Maine that the Colorado ruling should not apply there due to differences in state laws and standards. They asserted that Mr. Trump was not afforded a fair opportunity to litigate the facts in Colorado and maintained that the secretary of state lacked the authority to exclude him from the ballot. In their filing, they argued, “The constitution reserves exclusively to the Electoral College and Congress the power to determine whether a person may serve as president.”

Maine Joins Colorado in Ruling Trump Ineligible for Primary Election

Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an election law expert, noted that the Maine decision showcased the influence of the Colorado court ruling in paving the way for similar decisions. He emphasized the “incredible complexity” of the legal questions involved and suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court is best suited to resolve these issues. While a Supreme Court decision not to disqualify Mr. Trump would not bind Congress, it could create significant political pressure on Congress to align with the court’s stance.

In California, where Democrats hold significant control, the state might have appeared a probable location for a ballot challenge similar to the successful one in Colorado.

Contrary to numerous other states, legal analysts have noted that California does not explicitly grant its secretary of state the authority to disqualify presidential candidates.

Despite this, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat, urged Ms. Weber last week to explore all legal avenues to exclude Mr. Trump from the ballot, citing the same constitutional justification employed by the Colorado Supreme Court.

In response, Ms. Weber indicated that she intended to defer the decision to state and federal courts, which have previously dismissed at least two lawsuits in California challenging Mr. Trump’s eligibility. Emphasizing her commitment to address ballot eligibility within legal bounds and transcend political divisions, Ms. Weber outlined her approach.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California expressed his belief last week that officials in the state should not remove Mr. Trump from the ballot. In a statement, he remarked, “There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a threat to our liberties and even to our democracy, but in California, we defeat candidates we don’t like at the polls. Everything else is a political distraction.”

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