Donald Trump has been disqualified from the ballot in Colorado and Maine—and it is no coincidence that those are the only two states that have substantively grappled with whether the Fourteenth Amendment bars Trump from the ballot and reached a final decision based on the merits.
Other individuals and groups have brought ballot eligibility challenges in other states across the country, some of which are pending and many of which have failed. None of the cases that have been dismissed reached the stage where a court heard evidence and ruled on the merits, which includes questions of whether Trump is an insurrectionist and whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies in his case.
Every case that failed did so either because the plaintiff lacked standing to bring a challenge or on state law grounds regarding whether a specific state’s law allowed for a challenge during the presidential primary.
In Colorado, CREW represented six Republican and unaffiliated voters challenging Trump’s ballot eligibility in the state. In late December, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is disqualified from the ballot. The Court ruled that the events of January 6th were an insurrection against the U.S. Constitution, that Trump engaged in that insurrection, that Trump’s speech inciting the insurrection was not protected by the First Amendment and that Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment applied to Trump. That decision followed an oral argument before the court, and a decision from the Denver County District Court that Trump did engage in insurrection, but which stopped short of disqualifying Trump over the technicality of whether the president is an “officer” of the United States and whether the presidency is an “office” under the United States. The District Court’s decision followed weeks of pre-trial briefing and a five day evidentiary hearing in which both the petitioners and Trump presented their case, including hours of video evidence, thousands of pages of documents and testimony and cross examination of 15 witnesses.
In Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows similarly ruled that Trump is disqualified from the presidential primary ballot based on a challenge brought by a bipartisan group of former elected officials. Under Maine law, if a candidate’s eligibility is challenged, the Secretary of State makes the initial eligibility determination. The Maine hearing relied heavily on evidence from the Colorado lawsuit, as well as government reports and other evidence. Like in Colorado, both sides had the opportunity to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and brief the issues. Secretary Bellows released a decision after a day-long hearing where Trump again presented his case, and which he appealed to the state Superior Court. That court remanded the case to the Secretary of State and ordered her to wait until the Supreme Court rules in Trump v. Anderson (the Colorado case) and then reevaluate her decision. The Maine Supreme Court declined to take up the Secretary of State’s appeal of the Superior Court decision.
In Illinois, after a two-hour hearing which included both sides presenting evidence and making arguments, a hearing officer, retired Republican Judge Clark Erickson, submitted a recommendation to the state’s eight-member Board of Elections. Erickson argued that a court, not the Board of Elections, was empowered to make such a determination, but stated that if the Board disagreed with his jurisdictional conclusions, “the evidence presented at the hearing on January 26, 2024 prove[d] by a preponderance of the evidence that President Trump engaged in insurrection, within the meaning of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Illinois Board of Elections ultimately agreed that it did not have jurisdiction and therefore did not rule on the merits.
In the states highlighted in the map above, cases and challenges were brought in state court or in front of state election boards and administrative bodies under state law procedures. None of these cases or challenges have reached the merits question of whether Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and is therefore disqualified from holding future office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Where cases have been dismissed, as in Minnesota and Michigan, the courts have merely held that those states’ specific election law procedures, unlike in Colorado and Maine, did not provide a cause of action during the presidential primary election. Those courts, however, did not foreclose challenges to a presidential candidate’s qualifications during the general election and those decisions do not present a conflict with the cases that have reached the merits under state laws allowing presidential primary election challenges.
In the states highlighted in the map above, individuals have brought cases and challenges in which they are representing themselves (otherwise known as “pro se”). The vast majority of these cases were brought in federal courts where plaintiffs have consistently been found to lack standing. Many of the cases were voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs. Some dismissal decisions from lower courts have been appealed, but are unlikely to be reversed. At least 24 such cases were brought by one individual who is running as a long-shot Republican primary candidate. None of these cases have reached the merits of whether Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and it is unlikely that any will.