Updated Feb 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court appears skeptical of Colorado booting Trump from ballot

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump talks reporters at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters on January 31, 2024 in Washington, DC

Former President Trump talks reporters on Jan. 31 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared broadly skeptical Thursday of states' ability to disqualify former President Trump from the ballot using Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Why it matters: The nation's highest court's eventual ruling could have broad implications for Trump's presidential candidacy nationwide.

Driving the news: "I think that the question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States," Justice Elena Kagan, who was appointed by former President Obama, said.

  • "What's a state doing deciding who other citizens get to vote for for president?" she said.
  • Another liberal justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, questioned whether the office of the presidency can be disqualified under the 14th Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that if the Colorado decision is upheld, other states could kick other candidates from the ballot.

  • "It'll come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election," he said. "That's a pretty daunting consequence."
  • Justice Samuel Alito said that states reaching their own conclusions could create an "unmanageable situation."

Zoom in: Trump lawyer Jonathan Mitchell argued that states can't ban an "admitted insurrectionist" from the ballot, because Congress could vote to lift "that disability after the election."

  • Mitchell also argued that the president is not an "officer of the United States," which means that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment cannot apply.
  • He also said that Jan. 6 was a "riot" and not insurrectionist, which is a central claim of the former president's legal team.

Jason Murray, the lawyer for the Colorado voters, disputed early in his arguments that the president is not considered an officer of the U.S.

  • "President Trump's main argument is that this court should create a special exemption to Section 3 that would apply to him and to him alone," Murray said.
  • "President Trump disqualified himself," Murray also said.

What he's saying: Trump said he "thought our arguments were very, very strong" in remarks Thursday after the oral arguments ended.

  • "Can you take the person that's leading everywhere and say, 'Hey, we're not gonna let you run'? You know, I think that's pretty tough to do, but I'm leaving it up to the Supreme Court."

The big picture: The Supreme Court last month agreed to take up Trump's appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court's December ruling that the former president is ineligible for the ballot over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

  • Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states that no one should hold office in the U.S. if they "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [U.S.], or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

Zoom out: 14th Amendment challenges to Trump's eligibility have been filed in more than 30 states.

  • In addition to Colorado, Trump was also removed from the ballot in Maine. That ruling is paused pending a decision by the Supreme Court on the Colorado case.
  • It's one of several legal issues before the Supreme Court that could have ramifications for the former president and the outcome of the 2024 election.

What to watch: The Supreme Court agreed to fast-track consideration of the case and both parties have urged speedy consideration, given that Colorado and Maine have their primaries on March 5.

Go deeper: Tracking efforts to remove Trump from the 2024 ballot

Axios' Shauneen Miranda contributed reporting.

Editor's note: This story was updated with details from Thursday's hearing and to add quotes from former President Trump.

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