Courts wrestle with legality of removing Trump from ballot in Minnesota, Colorado

The Minnesota Supreme Court is weighing its authority, and the authority of the secretary of state, to remove former President Donald Trump from March’s primary ballot under Section Three of the 14th Amendment. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 2 | The Minnesota Supreme Court is weighing its authority, and the authority of the secretary of state, to remove former President Donald Trump from March’s primary ballot under Section Three of the 14th Amendment. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The Minnesota Supreme Court is weighing its authority, and the authority of the secretary of state, to remove former President Donald Trump from March's primary ballot under Section Three of the 14th Amendment.

The court heard opening arguments on Thursday from attorneys representing Minnesota voters, the former president and the state's Republican Party. It is considering several questions in the newly submitted case, including whether Section Three is self-executing, the definition of an insurrection or rebellion and where the authority to remove a candidate from primary ballots lies.


Ron Fein, legal director for Free Speech For People, represented the voters who seek to have Trump blocked from the ballot. He argues that Section Three directly prohibits Trump from holding office. He also said Minnesota code allows the secretary of state to keep Trump off the ballot because he is ineligible.


"This is a case of extraordinary importance," Fein told the justices. "We ask the court to uphold the Constitution and defend American democracy."

The justices expressed some hesitancy about using their authority to make an unprecedented decision and order Trump's removal from the ballot, if they have that authority.

"Let's say you're right," said Chief Justice Natalie Hudson. "'Should we' is the question that concerns me the most. So should we do it even if we could do it?"

Hudson said she is concerned that 50 states could come to different decisions on these questions, creating "chaos."

Fein responded that this would be unlikely as he would expect Trump to challenge the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fein and the justices also went back and forth about the role of Congress in determining the eligibility of a presidential candidate. Under Section Three, it takes two-thirds approval in the House and Senate to grant a candidate amnesty, removing their disqualification. However, Congress has no role in determining a candidate's initial eligibility.

Attorneys for Trump and the Republican Party of Minnesota argued that there is no clear legal definition of what an insurrection or rebellion is, and that the court does not have the jurisdiction to remove Trump.


Nicholas Nelson, an attorney representing Trump, was asked what he believes constitutes engaging in an insurrection or rebellion.

"We would say it's some sort of organized form of warfare or violence that would be what qualifies as an insurrection," Nelson said. "That is oriented towards breaking away from or overthrowing the United States government."

"We would say that what happened on Jan. 6 was a crime, some of it serious. There was violence, some of it serious," he continued. "But it did not reach the scale or scope that would be regarded as an insurrection."

Nelson noted other courts have "overwhelmingly" said ruling a candidate ineligible for reasons that are open to debate "is not a decision that should be made in the judiciary." He requested that the court dismiss the petition for a lack of jurisdiction or merit to the argument. Fein requested that an evidentiary hearing be held.

Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn, representing Secretary of State Steve Simon, said election officials need a ruling determined by no later than Jan. 5. This will allow them time to prepare for the March 5 elections.

The secretary of state is not taking a position on the merits of the arguments, though he argues he does not have the unilateral authority to take Trump off the ballot, Hartshorn said. But he does believe it is ripe for a judgment.


Hartshorn confirmed that Simon would comply with any decision the court makes.

Trump's defense calls witnesses in Colorado

A Colorado district court entered its fourth day of a hearing over Trump's ballot eligibility Thursday. Attorneys representing Trump presented witnesses for testimony, pushing back on Trump's role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Friday.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., was among the witnesses to testify on Thursday, doing so virtually. He was questioned about Trump's impeachment following the attack on the Capitol and the attack itself.

Buck said he believes Trump should have been allowed to argue his side of the case in the impeachment hearings and subsequent investigation into Jan. 6, 2021, by the House select committee.

Buck announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection in 2024, citing some in the Republican Party who have continued to claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

Amy Kremer, an organizer of the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, opened Thursday's testimony. She was one of the founders of the Tea Party movement in 2009 before becoming an organizer for "Women for Trump" in 2016 and "Women for America First" in 2019.

Kremer, whose organization had put together two other rallies following the 2020 election, said their Jan. 6 rally was "completely taken over" after Trump's team got involved. It was Trump's team that approached her about moving the rally to the Ellipse and having the former president speak.


As she began to discuss far-right figures like Alex Jones then being invited to the rally, the attorney for Trump said he would like to "direct her" a little more. Kremer had referred to Jones and Ali Alexander as "whackos," "bomb throwers," and "agitators."

Kremer said it was Caroline Wren, a former member of the Trump campaign, who wanted Jones and Alexander involved in the rally. She described previous rallies as peaceful and called attendees "happy."

When Trump delivered his speech at the Ellipse, Kremer said attendees were again "happy." She did not believe him to be calling for violence when he said phrases like "fight like hell."

Kremer would later continue to insist that the election was stolen, saying it was "obvious" to many people, while being cross-examined by an attorney for the petitioners.

Like the case in Minnesota, attorneys seek to prove that Trump incited and engaged in an insurrection and should be barred from running for president under Section Three. Their arguments have leaned heavily on the findings of the House select committee, including video of Trump's speech at the Ellipse and the attack.

Law enforcement officers who were interviewed by the committee have also testified this week.


Trump's defense again has downplayed his role in the attack and suggested that the attack does not rise to the level of an insurrection.

Wallace has indicated more of an openness to levying a ruling than the Supreme Court in Minnesota. She struck down an argument by Trump's legal team that said courts do not have the authority to rule on ballot eligibility.

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