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Maine’s decision to disqualify Trump ups ante for U.S. Supreme Court

Legal experts say justices are likely to conclude that the 14th amendment can’t be enforced by states and only by Congress.

Published: December 28, 2023 11:00pm

Maine’s decision to become the second state to disqualify Donald Trump from the ballot raises the stakes for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene quickly on a dispute that threatens to upend the 2024 election. It’s a case that may also determine whether states can enforce a power that Congress expressly gave to itself, experts said.

Much of the debate over whether Trump can be disqualified under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment – as Colorado’s all Democrat Supreme Court ruled last week and Maine’s Democrat Secretary of State Shenna Bellows declared Thursday – has centered around whether the former president’s conduct and speech on Jan. 6, 2021, met the amendment’s definition of having “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” 

But legal analysts say the high court may have a simpler mission because of the language in the final clause of the amendment passed in the aftermath of the Civil War.

“The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” the amendment states, further clarifying that Congress could also let a candidate guilty of insurrection to appear on a ballot with a two thirds vote of both the Senate and House.

Legal experts told Just the News it is clear Congress reserved the power to disqualify for itself.

“I think the Supreme Court will focus on the fact that there is no authority in the 14th Amendment for application by state courts. There is no application by courts at all,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said in a video he posted on the X social media platform.

Dershowitz told Just the News separately he expects Maine’s declaration and Colorado’s decision to both be overturned.

Maine’s decision is “worse than Colorado,” he told Just the News Thursday night. “One official denies all Maine voters the right to cast a ballot for Trump. Will be reversed by SCOTUS.”

Mike Davis, a retired Senate Judiciary Committee lawyer and founder of the Article III Project think tank, said states have no power to enforce the 14th amendment. “Congress has to do it,” he told Just the News.

He noted Congress passed a law for criminal prosecution of insurrection after the 14th amendment and he believes a candidate would have to be convicted under that law for the amendment's disqualification to apply.

The Colorado State Republican Party also is relying on that interpretation of the amendment in its appeal Wednesday night of the state Supreme Court decision. It asked the nine justices to determine in part “whether Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment is self-executing to the extent of allowing states to remove candidates from the ballot in the absence of any Congressional action authorizing such process.”

While the legal arguments pile up, the reaction to Maine's decision was swift and decisive.

"I stand with President Trump against the Left’s blatant attack on our democracy," Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. wrote on X. 

Fellow GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy called what was happening a threat to democracy. 

"The system is hellbent on taking this man out, the Constitution be damned," Ramaswamy wrote. "I stand by my prior pledge to *withdraw* from any state’s ballot that ultimately removes Trump from its ballot. I call on DeSantis, Christie, and Haley to do the same - or else they are tacitly endorsing this illegal and brazen election interference in the GOP primary. This cancer in American politics isn’t limited to the Democrats."

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kari Lake came to Trump's defense, stating that what occurred is voter suppression. 

“Democrats fear they can’t beat President Donald J. Trump at the ballot box, so they’re trying to take him off the ballot altogether and deprive American citizens of their sacred right to choose their next President," Lake wrote in a statement. "A politician unilaterally booting a presidential candidate off the ballot is voter suppression of the highest level."

She then called on the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the committee looks forward to helping fight the ruling in court.

"Democrat election interference, just like we saw in Colorado," McDaniel wrote. "State officials do not get to decide who the American people cast their vote for. We look forward to helping fight this legal battle in the US Supreme Court."

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, spoke out against the decision coming out of Maine, stating the former president should be allowed on the ballot since he hasn't been found guilty of insurrection. 

"I voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection," Golden wrote in a statement shared to X. "I do not believe he should be reelected as president of the United States. However, we are a nation of laws, therefore until he is actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot."  

Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., called Maine's Secretary of State's decision "corrupt" and "abominable."

"Maine’s Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows, just released her egregious decision to remove Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot," he stated. This choice is nothing short of corrupt and abominable."

Maine's Republican Senator, Susan Collins, said the decision by the Secretary of State should be overturned.

"Maine voters should decide who wins the election – not a Secretary of State chosen by the Legislature," Collins wrote. "The Secretary of State’s decision would deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice, and it should be overturned."

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