(Bloomberg) -- A group of voters in Colorado is suing to block former US president Donald Trump from state ballots in 2024 because of his efforts to overturn the results of the election in 2020.
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In their lawsuit filed Tuesday in Denver state court, the voters cite a section of the US Constitution that bars officials from holding office if they engaged in an insurrection against the government. They accused Trump of trying to “subvert” the Constitution and the US election system “through a sustained campaign of lies” and by inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
The Colorado suit is part of a broader push by Trump’s critics to challenge the former president’s eligibility as he campaigns for a return to the White House. But the insurrection disqualification in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which dates back to the post-Civil War era, is relatively untested, so there’s little legal precedent to guide judges and state election officials.
The former president has been indicted in Georgia state court and in a federal case in Washington over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He’s pleaded not guilty to the federal and state charges.
Trump’s campaign released a statement calling the case an “absurd conspiracy theory and political attack,” adding that there “is no legal basis for this effort except in the minds of those who are pushing it.”
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The riot at the US Capitol revived debate among legal scholars over whether Section 3 could be used to keep candidates off the ballot or remove them from office. A recent law review article made the case that the provision is still operative and should apply to Trump. Other scholars contend Congress needs to adopt formal procedures first. There’s also uncertainty about whether it can apply to a presidential candidate.
A handful of lawsuits filed over Trump’s eligibility have been dismissed after judges found plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing to sue. In the Colorado case, the mix of Republican and unaffiliated voters argue that as “eligible electors” they have the right to bring claims under state law.
It’s the first case involving Trump’s eligibility filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The organization succeeded last year in getting former New Mexico county official Couy Griffin removed from office under Section 3 after he was convicted on federal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.
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Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s president, acknowledged in a statement that the new case is unprecedented. The group said Colorado’s laws made it a “good venue” and that it planned to file ballot challenges against Trump in other states. Other organizations have vowed to press similar ballot challenges.
“You don’t break the glass unless there’s an emergency,” Bookbinder said.
The Colorado suit cites an earlier case that CREW and other legal advocacy groups have highlighted before in discussing Trump’s eligibility. In 2012, a federal appeals court entered an order saying states could exclude candidates if they were “constitutionally prohibited from assuming office.” The order was written by US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was a lower court judge at the time.
Efforts to disqualify Trump’s Republican allies in the House from the 2022 midterms resulted in mixed court rulings on the viability of Section 3 claims, though none succeeded in keeping candidates off the ballot. The special congressional committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack recommended in its final report that Congress adopt enforcement procedures. Several bills have failed so far.
The Denver case was filed against Trump, but also names Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold as a defendant because her office runs the state’s election operation. Griswold, who in the past declined to take a position on the ballot question, released a statement Wednesday saying she looked forward to the court’s ruling on the issue and was “hopeful that this case will provide guidance to election officials on Trump’s eligibility as a candidate for office.”
The case is Anderson v. Griswold, 2023-CV-032577, Denver County District Court.
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