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Trump is back on the Colorado ballot, U.S. Supreme Court rules

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that former President Donald Trump should appear on the ballot in Colorado in a decision that follows months of debate over whether the frontrunner for the GOP nomination violated the “insurrectionist clause” included in the 14th Amendment.

The opinion is a massive victory for Trump, vanquishing one of the many legal threats that have both plagued and animated his campaign against President Joe Biden. Though the decision has no impact on the four ongoing criminal cases that Trump is facing, including the federal election subversion case that covers some of the same conduct surrounding January 6, 2021.

The court was unanimous on the idea that Trump could not be unilaterally removed from the ballot.

But the justices were divided about how broadly the decision would sweep. A 5-4 majority said that no state could dump a federal candidate off any ballot – but four justices asserted that the court should have limited its opinion.

The decision, which marked the first time the high court had weighed Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, landed a day before Super Tuesday, when 16 states and territories, including Colorado, will hold nominating contests.

Using the 14th Amendment to derail Trump’s candidacy has always been seen as a legal longshot, but gained significant momentum with a win in Colorado’s top court in December, on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since that decision, Trump was also removed from the ballot in Maine and Illinois.

Courts and legal groups had for months debated the meaning of the post-Civil War provision at the center of the case, language that prohibits certain officials who took an oath to support the Constitution – and then engaged in insurrection – from serving in office again. The key provision, known as Section 3, was originally intended to keep former Confederates from reclaiming power.

But there was considerable uncertainty about the ban’s meaning and how it should be applied. Several conservative and liberal justices raised fundamental questions during the Feb. 8 arguments about the fairness of Colorado effectively answering those questions for the rest of the nation.

Trump ridiculed the 14th Amendment lawsuits that have cropped up across the country and routinely complains that they are an unconstitutional affront pursued by Democrats who want to take him off the ballot rather than compete with him in November. His lawyers have argued it would be “un-American” to deprive voters of the opportunity to decide whether Trump should return to the White House.

Similar 14th Amendment challenges against Trump were rejected – all on procedural grounds – in Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts and Oregon. But in Colorado, a series of decisions by state courts led to a case that Trump ultimately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

A liberal-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed the Colorado lawsuit in September on behalf of six Republican and independent voters, led by 91-year-old Norma Anderson, a trailblazing former Republican state legislator. They sued Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and asked a judge to force her to remove Trump’s name from the state’s GOP primary ballot.

A state district judge in Colorado presided over a weeklong trial before concluding in November that even though Trump “engaged in an insurrection,” he should stay on the ballot because the ban didn’t apply to presidents. The Colorado Supreme Court, on a sharply divided 4-3 vote, affirmed the findings about Trump’s role in the U.S. Capitol attack but said that the ban did, in fact, apply to presidents.

Only three states had removed Trump from the ballot because of the “insurrectionist ban.”

In addition to Colorado, the top election official in Maine reached a similar conclusion and determined that Trump is constitutionally barred from office. Trump is appealing, and a state court paused those proceedings while the Supreme Court dealt with the Colorado case.

An Illinois judge also removed Trump from the ballot in that state on the same January 6 grounds, though implementation of that ruling was paused pending any appeals.

It appeared during the Supreme Court’s arguments that Trump would win. The court’s conservatives most likely to be skeptical to the former president, like Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, lobbed relatively friendly questions at Trump’s lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell. When the attorney representing the voters stood up, questioning became far more pointed and insistent.

And it wasn’t only conservatives who appeared to be on the attack: Justices Elena Kagan, nominated by President Barack Obama, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Biden pick, also zeroed in on some of the arguments that Trump had raised in his briefs.

“The question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States,” Kagan pressed Jason Murray, who was representing the challengers. “Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination not only for their own citizens but for the rest of the nation?”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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