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A look at the impact of the Colorado ruling barring Trump from the 2024 ballot

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This week, yet another unprecedented event in the history of American democracy - and once again, it involves Donald Trump. In a Tuesday ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court voted 4-3 to remove Trump from the Republican primary ballot, citing the Constitution's 14th Amendment language barring insurrectionists from holding public office. Now, the ruling is on hold until January 4, and that gives Donald Trump a chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The thing is, election officials have said that this matter needs to be settled by the first week of January, which is the deadline to submit for candidacy. Joining us now to sort through all of this is David Becker. He's executive director and founder of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research. David, so considering three other courts around the country decided differently on similar cases, did Colorado arrive at the correct decision?

DAVID BECKER: Well, I think that's ultimately a decision for the United States Supreme Court. We always knew it was going to end up there, and we really need the United States Supreme Court to weigh in here because, as the court itself noted, they're in an uncharted territory. We've never seen a presidential candidate disqualified under the 14th Amendment, even though the 14th Amendment clause that would disqualify a candidate seeking an office of the United States who had engaged in insurrection - that has been applied as recently as last year to an elected official in New Mexico. So the United States Supreme Court is going to have to weigh in here because we actually end up having dozens of cases all over the country where usually Republicans are seeking to disqualify Donald Trump from the primary ballot.

MARTÍNEZ: So David, can you explain the constitutional basis for the court's decision? Because Colorado's chief justice dissented, arguing that Donald Trump has yet to be convicted of, quote, "insurrection-related offense." So how does that all work?

BECKER: So what the majority here found was basically three things. First, they held that the presidency was an office of the United States. That tends to be mostly a consensus opinion, although the lower court disagreed on that. They overturned that. Second, they determined that Donald Trump had engaged in insurrection. It doesn't say convicted of insurrection in that amendment, and I think that's very important. The language of the amendment applies to engaging in insurrection. And it's been applied in other cases where there hasn't been a conviction for insurrection or specifically insurrection. In that New Mexico case I mentioned, it was applied to someone who had been convicted of trespassing in Congress on January 6 - not of anything more than trespassing.

MARTÍNEZ: Would it be fair to describe it as even though there's no conviction, I'm believing my own eyes in making this decision?

BECKER: Well, I think it's more than that.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

BECKER: They held a five-day evidentiary hearing. Both parties were allowed to put on evidence to determine whether or not Donald Trump had engaged in insurrection. They looked at, for instance, the record of the January 6 Select Committee on January 6. So there was evidence that they looked at. And I think there's a legitimate question as to whether or not that evidence was sufficient or not. Certainly the minority - some members of the minority didn't think it was, but the majority did think it was, and that's going to be something ultimately, again, for the United States Supreme Court to determine.

MARTÍNEZ: And do you think it'll hold up in the Supreme Court?

BECKER: It's very hard to predict this. I think one thing that's for sure is we can't just assume that because six of the members were appointed by Republicans and three of the members were appointed by Democrats that this is going to be a 6-3 decision. This almost certainly will be taken up by the Supreme Court. This is not an automatic review. This is something they have discretion over, but I think it's fairly certain it will be taken up. And then the question is, how quickly do they move? 'Cause whether you agree that he engaged in insurrection and should be disqualified or think he shouldn't be disqualified, one thing that everyone agrees on is we need a decision as quickly as possible and as clearly as possible - not just for the Republican Party who needs to know if they have a qualified nominee, but for the election officials all over the country who have to plan an election and print ballots and know who's going to...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

BECKER: ...Appear on those ballots, and for the voters to know who they're going to ultimately have a choice to vote for.

MARTÍNEZ: Might the Supreme Court wait to see how this plays out in other states?

BECKER: I think this will likely be on an accelerated track.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

BECKER: I think they need to rule quickly. We already know we have a difference of opinion. The other states dismissed these cases not on the substance or the merits. They did it on procedural grounds mostly, mostly saying that this is a primary ballot. The parties have wide leeway in determining who their nominees are, and we're not going to interfere at this stage because the Republican Party hasn't selected a nominee yet.

MARTÍNEZ: And quickly, should the court factor in the will of the voters in its decision, considering that Donald Trump appears to be the GOP front-runner?

BECKER: Well, the courts will always defer to the voters, and it is a very high bar to get someone removed from a ballot who might otherwise appear, because courts generally want to let the voters make this decision. However, if he did engage in insurrection, then the 14th Amendment has to have meaning.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

BECKER: And so the court's going to have to determine what that meaning is.

MARTÍNEZ: David Becker is executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. David, thanks.

BECKER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.