A nation watched in shock as Colorado removed GOP front-runner Donald Trump from its primary ballots and again when Maine chose to follow suit. Liberals cheered as democracy was shredded, and conservatives understood that the decisions were a tool to ensure a Joe Biden victory in 2024. But is it unprecedented, and is it unconstitutional?
On the surface, each state must vet candidates for routine qualifications necessary to appear on ballots. Ensuring candidates meet basic requirements, like age, citizenship, residency, and gathering enough signatures, is standard. All states and the District of Columbia follow this routine to exclude candidates who don’t meet these criteria from appearing on the ballot.
While it is uncommon for states to bar presidential candidates from appearing on the ballot, it’s not unheard of.
In Illinois, presidential candidate Linda Jenness was barred from the ballot by the secretary of state because, at 31, she fell four years short of the U.S. Constitution’s Article II requirement that a president must be at least 35 years old. Despite Jenness’ candidacy petition, the State Electoral Board, which included state officials like the secretary of state, governor, and attorney general, voted against certification, citing two reasons. Firstly, Jenness refused to submit a required loyalty oath under Illinois state law. Secondly, she did not meet the federal age requirement of 35 years. A federal district court ruled in her favor regarding Illinois’ loyalty oath, deciding that it violated her First Amendment rights. However, it ruled she was ineligible because of the constitutionally mandated age requirement.
Presidential and vice-presidential candidates Henry Krajewski and Anne Marie Yezo were kept off the ballot in New Jersey because their campaigns violated the 12th Amendment. The 12th Amendment prohibits electors from voting for candidates for both president and vice president if they are from the same state as the elector. In Colorado, Abdul Hassan was excluded from the presidential ballot by the secretary of state due to his not being a natural-born citizen.
The Supreme Court has consistently said these rules are exclusive, meaning Congress and states can’t add more requirements for these federal roles. But the 14th Amendment is in the Constitution and would not count as “an additional requirement.”
What is in question is Colorado and Maine’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, Section 3. Both have deemed former president Donald Trump “engaged in an insurrection” and that a president is an “official” as described in the Constitution.
Never before has a state kept a name off a ballot because the candidate was unpopular, nor has the tactic ever been used as a political weapon to ensure another candidate’s victory.
The only entity that can unravel the complexities of the “insurrection” clause is the United States Supreme Court, and they have agreed to hear the case on February 8.
Lawmakers see Colorado and Maine’s decision to block Trump as a deeper issue and a bad omen of things to come. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) told Fox News, “I’ll guarantee you, when the situation is reversed, you will have Republicans doing this. We need to put this to bed.”
Tillis and other Republican senators are introducing a bill to guarantee that only the Supreme Court can rule on blocking a candidate from ballots for “engaging in insurrection.” Any state that attempts by an official to remove a candidate because of alleged “insurrectionist activities” will face a steep penalty. Federal funds necessary to run elections will be withdrawn from states where officials try to block a candidate through Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
The senators are not seeking to allow insurrectionists to hold the presidency of the United States through their proposal. They want to ensure a fair hearing on the matter, which is more than Trump was allowed in Maine and Colorado. If the bill is passed, it will remove the states’ ability to unilaterally decide if a candidate is guilty of “insurrection” by turning the case into a fact-finding mission. Once all evidence is collected by a panel of three federal district court judges, the information will be turned over to SCOTUS to weigh and make the final ruling.
So far, the proposal is well-received among Republicans, but it is, of course, on shaky ground with Democrats. Tillis points out that if the Trump ban is allowed to stand, the issue will likely be revisited whenever a candidate from either side of the aisle is unpopular.
It’s a scenario already being played out in Pennsylvania, where some are accusing U.S. Congressman Scott Perry of alleged “insurrectionist” activities so he will be removed from the ballot.
Obviously, “insurrections” aren’t everyday occurrences in the United States, and for those who understand the term, there was no January 6 “insurrection,” either. But there is no doubt Democrats will ride the January 6 train as far as they can; any Republican with the audacity to question the 2020 election will be deemed as taking an active part in the “insurrection.” It’s another power play, and like most Democrat games, it’s designed for maximum long-term damage. Only common sense legislation can stop the inevitable tit-for-tat political theater to come.