Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a 2024 presidential election campaign event at Sportsman Boats in Summerville, South Carolina, U.S. September 25, 2023.
Sam Wolfe | Reuters
Maine’s top election official ruled Thursday that Donald Trump is constitutionally ineligible to appear on the state’s primary ballot next year, fueling a national effort to disqualify the former president over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
The decision by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, follows a bombshell Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week that concluded the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Trump from serving in office again due to his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
However, Bellows’ office said her decision would not be enforced until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in, “given the compressed timeframe, the novel constitutional questions involved, the importance of this case, and impending ballot preparation deadlines.”
Trump is expected to appeal the decisions and others like it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will likely have to settle the issue. In the meantime, state election officials and lower courts have been forced to grapple with the unprecedented constitutional question on their own.
So far most courts have sided with Trump, with recent decisions in Michigan, Arizona and Minnesota ruling against citizen-led petitions to disqualify him and affirming Trump’s right to appear on the ballot in those states.
Trump has railed against the effort to remove him from the ballot as politically motivated attempts to undemocratically disenfranchise him and his supporters.
Trump has demanded that Bellows recuse herself from the case, arguing she is too partisan — she is a former Democratic state senator — and too prejudiced because she had publicly stated she viewed the Jan. 6 attack as an “insurrection.”
“The secretary’s expression of support for the view that January 6, 2021, constituted an insurrection, and that President Trump was an ‘insurrectionist,’ is probative evidence of prejudgment and bias,” Trump’s legal team wrote in a filing Wednesday, pointing to statements she had made in previous years.
At issue is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was written after the Civil War to prevent former Confederate officers from holding office in the newly reunited states. The clause bars from public office any former official who swore an oath to the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”
The Colorado Court concluded that Trump should be considered an insurrectionist for instigating violence in the lead-up to Jan. 6, though it did not enforce the decision immediately, expecting an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the current cases pertain to whether Trump can appear on Republican primary ballots, they would lay the groundwork for potentially removing him from the ballot in next November’s general election, if upheld.
The effort to disqualify Trump under the 14th Amendment had been paid relatively little attention until the Colorado decision, but the stakes are now higher as other states consider similar arguments with little time to spare.
Both Maine and Colorado hold their primary on Super Tuesday, March 5, but federal law requires state officials to send ballots to overseas military service members and others 45 days before an election, meaning the ballots need to be prepared in January.
Politically, strategists in both parties expect the legal case against Trump to ultimately collapse and say efforts to disqualify him will likely only serve to energize his supporters and fuel his claims that he’s being targeted by a vast conspiracy of powerful elite.