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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Minnesota high court: Trump will stay on primary ballots

Chief Justice Natalie Hudson left the door open for Minnesota voters to petition to remove Donald Trump from general election ballots, but the case may first visit the U.S. Supreme Court.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking to exclude former President Donald Trump from 2024’s election ballots Wednesday, but left room for petitioners to bring the question back to the court in the future.

Newly minted Chief Justice Natalie Hudson’s order, published just days after oral arguments were held Nov. 2, found that Trump’s potential presence on Minnesota ballots in upcoming primary elections did not create an error in need of correction.

Over opponents’ claims that Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol made him ineligible for office, Hudson wrote, neither the U.S. Constitution nor state law prohibits political parties from placing ineligible candidates on primary ballots.

“Although the secretary of state and other election officials administer the mechanics of the election, this is an internal party election to serve internal party purposes,” Hudson wrote. “Winning the presidential nomination primary does not place the person on the general election ballot as a candidate for president of the United States.”

The petitioners, a bipartisan group of voters including former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson, have argued that a clause in the Reconstruction-era 14th Amendment bars Trump from holding public office, including the presidency, because he “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States or gave “aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Anderson, who retired from the court in 2013, has said that the case is likely bound for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hudson’s order indicated a different possible route for the petitioners. While a number of the issues they raised were not ripe, she wrote, she dismissed the petition without prejudice as to the general election. Those claims could therefore be raised at a later date, should Trump seek to be included on the general election ballot. 

Attorneys for Trump and his campaign have argued that the events of Jan. 6 don’t qualify as an insurrection or rebellion and that disqualification is a question for Congress, not the courts. In a statement issued Wednesday, campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said that the decision is “further validation of the Trump campaign’s consistent argument that the 14th Amendment ballot challenges are nothing more than strategic, unconstitutional attempts to interfere with the election.” 

Hudson’s order was brief at just four pages, but promised a longer opinion to follow. 

At oral arguments, five of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s seven justices — Justices Margaret Chutich and Karl Procaccini recused themselves — questioned both sides as well as attorneys representing Secretary of State Steve Simon, who appeared only to argue that the issue should be heard by the state’s high court and is outside the secretary’s discretion, and the Minnesota GOP.

Hudson in particular asked the petitioners’ attorney, Ronald Fein of the nonprofit Free Speech for People, whether a mixed history of ballot disqualification cases suggested that the court should “use caution … and maintain the status quo.”

Fein argued that the court didn’t have a choice, pointing to a state law saying that the Minnesota Supreme Court “shall issue its findings and a final order for appropriate relief” after ordering a candidate to appear and provide evidence of eligibility. 

Trump attorney Nicholas Nelson, meanwhile, argued that “the Constitution really says a lot about how [disqualification] should happen, and it doesn’t mention the courts.”

Minnesota’s presidential primary is scheduled for March 5. While Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes have swung for Democratic candidates exclusively since 1976, it has been an increasingly tempting target to the GOP in recent years, alongside fellow upper-Midwest blue states Michigan and Wisconsin.

Categories / Government, Law, Politics

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