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Trump, GOP lawmakers press ballot arguments at Supreme Court

Attorneys say Colorado court ruling on 14th Amendment threatens to 'disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans'

The Supreme Court is pictured after 3-4 inches of snow fell across the Washington metro area on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court is pictured after 3-4 inches of snow fell across the Washington metro area on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Attorneys for Donald Trump on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to “put a swift and decisive end” to legal efforts that challenge his eligibility for the presidency, telling the justices that a Colorado court ruling to exclude the former president from the primary ballot could “unleash chaos and bedlam” if other states follow.

Trump’s legal team and others, including Republican lawmakers, got their chance ahead of Feb. 8 oral arguments to urge the justices to reverse a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court, which concluded the Constitution’s Insurrection Clause disqualifies Trump from holding the presidency.

The state court ruling, which highlighted Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to and during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, concluded that Trump “engaged in insurrection” and found he should be excluded from the state’s 2024 presidential primary ballot under a section of the 14th Amendment.

Trump’s attorneys argued in Thursday’s brief that kicking the former president off the ballot threatened to “disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans.” And they criticized the Colorado ruling by saying the state court removed him from the ballot based on a “dubious interpretation” of the Insurrection Clause.

Also on Thursday, 179 Republican members of Congress filed a brief pushing for a reversal of the Colorado ruling, arguing that it’s Congress that must approve of “implementing legislation” to authorize the enforcement of the Insurrection Clause.

“Enforcement legislation is not an empty formality,” the lawmakers wrote. “Disqualification under Section 3 is an extraordinarily harsh result, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s own text confirms that Congress, representing the Nation’s various interests and constituencies, is the best judge of when to authorize Section 3’s affirmative enforcement.”

The lawmakers said the Colorado court declined to define the scope of what it meant to “engage in insurrection.” That will simply make it easier for state officials to “cherry-pick” parts of the opinion and come up with definitions “to cover what they perceive to be the most egregious actions of their political opponents, to disqualify them from the ballot.”

A broad swath of conservatives signed onto the brief, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Top Republicans in the House also signed onto the brief, including Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Majority Whip Tom Emmer.

The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee filed a separate brief arguing the enforcement of the Insurrection Clause at the primary stage would violate the First Amendment rights of the party. They argued the court should “vindicate political parties’ First Amendment right to select the candidate of their choosing.”

Trump attorneys also argue he did not engage in insurrection and he is not subject to the Insurrection Clause because the president is not an “officer of the United States” under the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, a trio of election law experts filed a brief with a grave warning over if the court waits until after the 2024 election to decide if Trump is eligible to serve as president.

The election law experts said delaying the decision that far out would “risk catastrophic political instability, chance disenfranchising millions of voters, and raise the possibility of public violence.”

“To punt on the merits would invite chaos while risking great damage to the Court’s reputation and to the Nation as a whole,” the experts said, warning that the court should make a decision on Trump’s qualifications or risk “political instability not seen since the Civil War.”

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