Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers pushed back in court Thursday against efforts to remove him from Michigan’s 2024 ballot based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrectionist ban, the third state to grapple with the matter this month.
The hearing unfolded in Grand Rapids one day after the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a similar challenge – though their ruling only applies to the GOP primary election – and while a Colorado judge is still weighing arguments in a related case.
Trump lawyer Michael Columbo argued in the Michigan Court of Claims that judges don’t have a role enforcing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of, which says US officials who take an oath to support the US Constitution are banned from future office if they “engaged in insurrection.”
After being used against thousands of ex-Confederates, it has only been applied twice since 1919, which is why these cases are seen as a long shot.
“Judicial review, if any, should occur only after the Electoral (College) and congressional processes have run their course,” Columbo said, arguing that the challengers want to transform an after-the-fact “Section 3 disqualification into a ballot access qualification.”
“The power to enforce Section 3 currently resides in Congress alone,” Columbo said.
He said the provision only applies to elected officeholders-to-be and doesn’t apply to candidates running for office. If the challengers want to disqualify Trump based on his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection, the right time to do it would be in early 2025, after he wins the 2024 presidential election.
Mark Brewer, a lawyer for the challengers, forcefully argued against that theory.
“We’ve heard this morning about chaos… talk about chaos,” Brewer said. “That would require the country then to what, rerun the entire presidential election? It’s in this country’s interest to resolve these important constitutional issues now.”
He alluded to the appeals that are widely expected in these 14th Amendment cases in Michigan, Colorado and Minnesota. He predicted that “we will have a uniform rule” for the entire nation going into the 2024 primaries, because “the United States Supreme Court is going to resolve this.”
Trump denies wrongdoing regarding the January 6 attack, and his campaign has said these lawsuits are a partisan and anti-democratic attempt to upend the 2024 election.
During the hearing, Michigan Judge James Redford took issue with a few of Trump’s arguments, including that the “insurrectionist ban” doesn’t apply to the presidential oath of office. It also appeared that Redford was looking for ways to adjudicate the underlying questions about Trump’s eligibility, instead of dismissing the case outright.
Columbo said the Michigan court wasn’t suited to address the 14th Amendment dispute.
“Why not?” Redford interjected. “I’m pretty sure I know how to do a hearing. Admittedly, I’ve probably had 10,000 matters as a circuit judge. I think I have some muscle memory on that.”
A group of Michigan voters, with legal advocacy group Free Speech for People, sued Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to block her from putting Trump on the ballot. Benson is a Democrat and Trump critic, but her office is neutral on that question.
Heather Meingast, representing Benson, told the judge that Benson’s office doesn’t have the power to disqualify Trump, but she will do it if the judge orders her to.
“We have no process for conducting any kind of inquiry or investigation into something like this,” Meingast told the judge. “The secretary doesn’t have subpoena power. it’s just simply not there. The legislature hasn’t provided us with any kind of administrative vehicle. So then, the only other vehicle is the actions that we have before you.”
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