Kicking Trump off Michigan ballot would wreak ‘havoc,’ his attorneys argue
- Attorneys for former President Donald Trump fight effort to disqualify him from Michigan’s 2024 presidential election ballots
- Plaintiffs say Trump is ineligible to run for president again due to an insurrection clause in the U.S. Constitution
- A Michigan judge plans to rule “quickly” as the state prepares candidate lists for the Feb. 27 primary
LANSING — A Michigan judge promised to “rule quickly” on a pair of lawsuits seeking to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the state’s 2024 presidential election ballots because of his role in the U.S. Capitol uprising on Jan. 6, 2021.
“I fully recognize I am not the last word on whatever happens in this case,” Judge James Robert Redford said Thursday during a high-stakes hearing in Michigan’s Court of Claims in Grand Rapids, acknowledging that any decision he makes will likely be appealed to a higher court because of its national significance.
The clock is ticking because Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is expected to finalize a list of presidential primary candidates by next week with recommendations from both major political parties, including Republicans who are siding with Trump in the lawsuit.
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At issue is the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which disqualifies from federal office anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the country “or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Two Michigan lawsuits contend Trump cannot return to the White House — or even appear as a candidate on primary or general election ballots — because he encouraged supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol to block certification of Democratic President Joe Biden’s election.
Secretary of State Benson “could have and should have” already disqualified Trump from the ballot, but because she has not, the courts should, attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, told Redford on Thursday during oral arguments.
In prior legal briefs, Trump’s attorneys have argued that the events of Jan. 6 amounted to a “riot,” rather than an insurrection, and denied that the former president played any direct role in the violence that damaged the Capitol, alarmed the nation and killed five people.
Additionally, Trump attorney Michael Columbo argued Thursday that only Congress — not the Michigan Secretary of State or state courts — has authority to enforce the 14th Amendment.
Disqualifying Trump from Michigan ballots could wreak “havoc in a national federal election,” Columbo said in oral arguments. “We can't have one state dictating who may or may not be president by virtue of their independent disqualification of that candidate.”
The Michigan lawsuit is among a series of similar legal challenges playing out across the country. The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Trump can appear on that state’s GOP primary ballot but did not decide his qualifications for the general election, should he advance.
Michigan law is "vastly different" than Minnesota's and gives voters "the right to only have eligible candidates” on the ballot for the state’s Feb. 27 presidential primary, argued Brewer, whose plaintiffs in this case include former Republican voters like Bob Labrant, who now oppose Trump.
For instance, Brewer noted, Michigan candidates are "often removed from the primary ballot" if they do not actually live in the district they said they did in sworn affidavits. And, if Michigan Republican Party leaders still want to nominate Trump for president, they could do so through a planned caucus or convention, rather than honor the results of a government-run primary election, he said.
Benson, a second-term Democrat, is the named defendant in both lawsuits. She has declined to disqualify him on her own.
“Michigan law and the Michigan Legislature has not accorded the secretary the specific authority to make that constitutional determination,” Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast said Thursday. “Now to be clear, the secretary stands ready to comply with whatever order this court issues in relation to the former president’s eligibility to appear on the ballot.”
The Trump campaign, which last week filed a countersuit seeking to guarantee his spot on Michigan ballots, blasted the disqualification lawsuits early Thursday, characterizing them as part of an attempt by Democrats to “steal” the 2024 presidential election.
“Biden’s Democrats and their socialist financiers simply do not trust the American people with the right to vote, so they have weaponized the American justice system at nearly every level across our great country, to interfere with the election and make the choice for them,” Trump Campaign Spokesperson, Steven Cheung said in a statement.
The Michigan case has spurred a flurry of legal filings from interested parties across the country, including Trump defense briefs filed by the Republican National Committee, the Michigan Republican Party and similar organizations in six other states.
Thursday’s hearing included historical debate over the origins of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified three years after the Civil War and was a requirement for Southern states seeking reentry to the Union. The insurrection clause was designed to prevent former Confederate officials from holding public office, but that prohibition was overturned just four years later.
The new litigation is based on legal research by scholars like Indiana University Law Professor Gerard Magliocca, who filed a legal brief in the Michigan case this month arguing Trump should be disqualified.
"The public use of violence by a group of people to prevent or hinder the execution of the Constitution of the United States is an insurrection" within the meaning of the 14th Amendment, which applies to "a former President who swore an oath to persevere, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution." Magliocca’s attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Redford, who previously served as chief legal counsel to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, praised attorneys on all sides of the case for what he called “very fine lawyering.”
"I haven't read so many law review articles maybe since I was in law school,” the judge joked before explaining that he expects to issue written rulings in coming days.
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