WASHINGTON, D.C. — A case with the potential to disrupt Donald Trump’s drive to return to the White House is putting the Supreme Court uncomfortably at the center of the 2024 presidential campaign.
In arguments Thursday, the justices will, for the first time, wrestle with a constitutional provision that was adopted after the Civil War to prevent former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from reclaiming power.
The case is the court’s most direct involvement in a presidential election since Bush v. Gore, a decision delivered a quarter-century ago that effectively delivered the 2000 election to Republican George W. Bush.
The dispute stems from the push in Colorado to kick Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot because of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Colorado’s highest court determined that Trump incited the riot in the nation’s capital and is ineligible to be president again as a result and should not be on the ballot for the state’s primary on March 5.
A victory for the Colorado voters would amount to a declaration from the justices, who include three appointed by Trump when he was president, that he did engage in insurrection and is barred by the 14th Amendment from holding office again. That would allow states to keep him off the ballot and imperil his campaign.
A definitive ruling for Trump would largely end efforts in Colorado, Maine and elsewhere to prevent his name from appearing on the ballot.
The justices could opt for a less conclusive outcome, but with the knowledge that the issue could return to them, perhaps after the general election in November and in the midst of a full-blown constitutional crisis.
The court has signaled it will try to act quickly, dramatically shortening the period in which it receives written briefing and holds arguments in the courtroom.
Trump is separately appealing to state court a ruling by Maine’s Democratic secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, that he was ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot over his role in the Capitol attack. Both the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state’s rulings are on hold until the appeals play out.
The former president is not expected to attend the Supreme Court session this coming week, though he has shown up for court proceedings in the civil lawsuits and criminal charges he is fighting.
Whatever the justices decide, they are likely to see more of Trump, who is facing criminal charges related to Jan. 6 and other issues. Other election-related litigation also is possible.
In 2000, in Bush v. Gore, the court and the parties were divided over whether the justices should intervene at all.
In the current case, both parties want the matter settled, and quickly.
Trump’s campaign declined to make anyone available for this story, but his lawyers urged the justices not to delay.
“The Court should put a swift and decisive end to these ballot-disqualification efforts, which threaten to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans and which promise to unleash chaos and bedlam if other state courts and state officials follow Colorado’s lead and exclude the likely Republican presidential nominee from their ballots,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
Donald Sherman, the top lawyer at the group behind the ballot challenge, said voters and election officials need to have an answer quickly.
“And I think, obviously, voters have a not small interest in knowing whether the Supreme Court thinks, as every fact-finder that has reached this question, that Jan. 6 was an insurrection and that Donald Trump is an insurrectionist,” Sherman said in an interview with The Associated Press. He is executive vice president and chief legal counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Justice Clarence Thomas is the only sitting member of the court who was on the bench for Bush v. Gore. He was part of that majority.