Jon King, Michigan Advance
December 15, 2023
Former President Donald Trump is not disqualified by a section of the U.S. Constitution and can remain on Michigan’s 2024 GOP primary ballot.
That was the decision handed down Thursday by the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA), which ruled that two lower courts were correct to reject an appeal filed by a progressive legal advocacy group that claimed Trump was ineligible to run based on wording within Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
That section disqualifies from public office any individual who has taken an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution but then engages in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or gives aid or comfort to its enemies. No prior criminal conviction is required.
Trump has been targeted by plaintiffs in cases for his role in “inciting and facilitating” the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, just after the November 2020 general election in which President Joe Biden defeated Trump.
But in the 3-0 ruling, the COA said the constitutional issue in question, namely whether Trump should be disqualified, was not relevant to his placement on the primary ballot.
“With respect to the presidential primary election, there is no actual controversy, as the only purported basis for removing Trump from the presidential primary ballot would not be a sufficient basis for removal of Trump’s name from that ballot,” reads the opinion. “As explained, before Trump’s potential disqualification from holding the office of President could become a relevant concern, he would minimally need to prevail in the primary process. That process has yet to begin, and whether Trump prevails in the primary process or becomes the Republican nominee for President are purely hypothetical questions at present.”
Trump’s campaign celebrated the ruling, with spokesman Steven Cheung saying the decision rejected a “bad-faith interpretation of the 14th Amendment,” placing Trump in an even stronger position to win back the White House in 2024.
“Joe Biden remains a failed president whose popularity and support has crumbled from coast to coast,” said Cheung. “Biden’s cronies know they are losing and they have turned to the courts to save them from the American voters in an undemocratic, last ditch attempt to stop the American public from throwing them out of power. We look forward to the swift dismissals of all remaining ballot challenge cases and even bigger wins for the American people in 2024.”
Free Speech For People filed the appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals last month after Court of Claims Judge James Robert Redford’s decision that the political nature of the issues involved were outside the jurisdiction of the court and could only be decided by Congress.
Mark Brewer, a former Michigan Democratic Party chair and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the Michigan Advance the group is not dropping the effort.
“We’re already working on an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court,” said Brewer. “Obviously, we’re disappointed with the Court of Appeals decision. We think it’s wrong. The ruling essentially means that you can have ineligible candidates on a presidential primary ballot [and] the parties could discriminate in terms of who they put on the presidential primary ballot, and there would be no recourse. There’d be no judicial oversight of the presidential primary process at all.”
When asked about a recent Washington Post-Monmouth University poll that showed Trump with a 50-point lead over fellow GOP candidates Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley among Republican primary voters in Michigan, Brewer agreed it was “outside of reality” that anyone other than Trump would be the nominee. However, he said that has no bearing on their legal argument.
“It seems pretty clear that Trump is going to be the nominee, but as we’ve repeatedly stressed in our lawsuit, he’s ineligible,” Brewer said. “He violated the 14th Amendment. He’s an insurrectionist, and so regardless of his popularity, he’s not legally qualified to be on the ballot.”
Brewer noted that there is still time for Trump’s name to be stricken from the primary ballot as those don’t have to be available to voters until mid-January.
“So, there’s still time to take him off the ballot, and this is about the primary election ballot,” said Brewer. “There could be another dispute coming if he’s the nominee. And then the question is, ‘Should he be on the general election ballot?’ So we’re in just phase one of this fight.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four Michigan residents against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, in September after she declined to kick Trump off the 2024 ballot in Michigan, citing her lack of legal authority to do so. A similar lawsuit was filed by activist Robert Davis.
At the time Benson said she was “gratified” that the Court of Claims had affirmed her position that “under Michigan law anyone generally advocated by the national news media to be a candidate for the Republican or Democratic nomination for President must be listed on the ballot in our February 2024 primary.”
Benson later released a list of eligible candidates for both parties, including Trump on the GOP side.
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