Dec 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Landmark Trump ruling gives Supreme Court an unexpected New Year's agenda

Former President Trump claps as he wraps up a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Tuesday. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A little over two decades after the landmark Bush v. Gore ruling decided one messy presidential election, the Supreme Court will have a chance to rescue former President Trump's political ambitions — or leave him out in the cold.

Why it matters: A decision from Colorado on Tuesday will likely force the court to decide — very quickly by SCOTUS standards — if states can ban Trump from the ballot using the U.S. Constitution's insurrection clause.

Driving the news: The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, removed Trump from the state's primary ballot, concluding that he "incited and encouraged the use of violence and lawless action to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power."

  • It stayed the ruling until Jan. 4, with the option to keep the stay in place if the Supreme Court takes up the case before then.
  • The state's primary is set for Super Tuesday in early March.

Zoom in: The high court faces imminent questions on Trump's political immunity and eligibility to run for president in 2024.

  • Special counsel Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court earlier this month to weigh whether Trump is "absolutely immune" from prosecution for crimes he committed in office.
  • Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review a charge — "obstruction of an official proceeding" — that has been used to prosecute over 300 Jan. 6 defendants.
  • The Colorado decision marks the first time a court has found that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — which bans insurrectionists who once swore to uphold the Constitution from holding office — applies to Trump.

Between the lines: There's already a budding campaign to pressure Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any ruling because of his wife's connections to the Trump White House before Jan. 6.

  • Ginni Thomas was involved in Trump's attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

State of play: Trump likely wouldn't lose much by staying off the ballot: He lost the state by a double-digit margin in 2020. No Republican has won it since 2004.

  • Courts have so far rejected similar lawsuits in other states. Minnesota's top court rejected an attempt to push Trump off the ballot last month. A judge ruled against another effort in Michigan that's now being appealed.
  • Trump's legal spokeswoman, Alina Habba, said: "This ruling ... attacks the very heart of this nation's democracy. It will not stand, and we trust that the Supreme Court will reverse this unconstitutional order."

What to watch: The Supreme Court has an extremely narrow window to take up the case and issue a ruling.

  • Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said the court would need to decide within weeks for her office to meet a Jan. 5 deadline to certify and print ballots.
  • If the Supreme Court doesn't decide in time, Trump's name could remain on the ballot.
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