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Colorado case over Trump’s eligibility for primary ballot goes to judge

Colorado is latest test of insurrection provision in Constitution

Former President Donald Trump's eligibility for the Colorado ballot is under challenge because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
Former President Donald Trump's eligibility for the Colorado ballot is under challenge because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Colorado state judge heard closing arguments Wednesday in a case to decide whether former President Donald Trump’s actions in early 2021 disqualify him from the state’s primary ballot under an insurrection provision in the U.S. Constitution. 

Lawyers made wide-ranging arguments for about two and half hours, grappling over the ins and outs of specific language in the 14th Amendment and the extent that Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, engaged in insurrection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. 

Challengers say Trump is barred from the ballot under the 14th Amendment, ratified in the wake of the Civil War, which includes a provision to prevent people who took an oath to support the Constitution from holding office if they have “engaged in insurrection.”

Sarah B. Wallace, the Colorado judge who oversaw a weeklong trial earlier this month, is now tasked with deciding the case. Whatever her decision, an appeal is expected and the case has the potential to land at the Supreme Court. 

The Colorado case is one in a series of similar lawsuits nationwide seeking to bar Trump from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds, a number of which have been decided in Trump’s favor.  

Sean Grimsley, an attorney for the Colorado voters who brought the legal challenge, said Wednesday that Trump has disqualified himself from ever holding the office again under the 14th Amendment. 

“We are here because for the first time in our nation’s history, a president of the United States has engaged in insurrection against the Constitution,” Grimsley said. “He spearheaded a multi-faceted scheme to stay in power by any means necessary.”

He said that plan culminated in the violent attack on the Capitol during the counting of the electoral votes after President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

“And now he wants to be president again,” Grimsley said. “The Constitution does not allow that.”

Trump attorney Scott Gessler argued the petitioners’ case has a “rotten foundation.” He said the petitioners’ based their case around the now-disbanded House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, but argued the panel was biased and underwent no adversarial process. 

“This is about as biased and unprecedented and controversial of a process as you can possibly have, and yet that’s what the petitioners are relying on,” he said. 

Trump attorneys have also argued that the language of the 14th Amendment provision doesn’t apply to Trump, and that the lawsuit lacked any fact basis for finding that Trump “engaged” in insurrection.

Grimsley countered that Trump’s attorneys didn’t refute many of the findings of the Jan. 6 committee report, but instead complained about the methodology.