14th Amendment Ruling: Door Open

By Jim Ellis — Monday, Nov. 13, 2023


Former President Donald Trump with former Vice President Mike Pence. / Photo by Gage Skidmore

January 6: Insurrection? — There has been an ongoing argument about whether former President Donald Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6 situation at the US Capitol constitutes “insurrection” as cited in the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, and last week, a state Supreme Court issued a ruling.

At first glance, it appears that Trump won the Minnesota decision, but reading the chief justice’s decision suggests the issue is not yet firmly decided. Similar lawsuits are also alive in Colorado and Michigan.

The Minnesota State Supreme Court officially dismissed the lawsuit that was attempting to ban Trump from the state’s ballot. The high court ruled that his name be placed on the Republican primary ballot. Obviously, this part of the decision favors the former president.

The high court left open the possibility to hear, however, another lawsuit for the general election should Trump win the Republican presidential nomination. Some of the language associated with this narrative suggests that the ultimate decision might be different.

In dismissing the challenge, Minnesota Chief Justice Natalie Hudson wrote that the Republican primary is, “an internal party election to serve internal party purposes…[a]nd there is no statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot, or sending delegates to the national convention supporting, a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.”

The plaintiffs indicated they are “disappointed” with the ruling but underscored that the state Supreme Court has left the door open for a perhaps different ruling later in the cycle after Trump becomes the party nominee.

The “insurrection” term as used in the Constitution directly relates to enemies of the United States during America’s Civil War. Relating the verbiage to today’s politics may be a stretch. It is particularly so in this case because neither Trump nor any January 6 convicted defendant was even charged with insurrection against the Constitution, let alone found guilty. Furthermore, the second Trump impeachment did contain references to “insurrection,” and the Senate acquitted the former president.

Therefore, considering the aforementioned circumstances it appears that proving Trump guilty of insurrection is a difficult task. This, however, will not stop the lawsuits from moving forward, nor does it guarantee that some panel of judges won’t later remove his name from the ballot in certain states.

In the Minnesota situation, the plaintiffs cleared one important hurdle, meaning their standing to file the lawsuit was recognized. Many in the legal community have pointed out that partisan interest groups filing these ballot challenge claims would likely be viewed as not having recognized standing. The reasoning continues that suits from attorneys general or secretaries of states from a particular domain would be recognized. To date, no attorney general or secretary of state has taken such action.

In at least one major way, the 14th Amendment challenges are largely a non-issue. The states most likely to deny Trump ballot placement are places where he would not win anyway. Being struck from the ballot in Michigan, the site of one lawsuit, could be problematic, however, because this state now seems to be in play with Trump leading President Joe Biden in several recent Wolverine State surveys.

Should any state ban Trump from the ballot, thus ruling him as an individual inciting insurrection, it is a sure bet that the US Supreme Court would then become the focal judicial point to finally decide the issue.

This point of attack against Trump will not likely develop but the Minnesota dismissal explanation suggests that the Land of 10,000 Lakes could become the first state to venture down such a path.

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