Nov 3, 2023 - News

Minnesota Supreme Court appears skeptical of request to block Trump from ballot

Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via pool

Minnesota's state Supreme Court justices seem skeptical about stepping in to block former President Trump from the state's presidential ballot.

Driving the news: The state's high court heard oral arguments on Thursday in a lawsuit arguing that the GOP frontrunner is ineligible for the office under the 14th Amendment's "insurrection clause."

Why it matters: The lawsuit, filed in September, is one of the first tests of a legal theory that Trump's actions surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot should disqualify him from running for president.

What happened: Some of the most probing questions during Thursday's oral arguments centered on whether they should even be the ones determining eligibility for the nation's highest office in this case.

  • "Should we do it even if we could do it?" Chief Justice Natalie Hudson asked, saying she worried about "chaos" if different states came to different conclusions.

What they're saying: Ronald Fein, an attorney for the group of voters who brought the Minnesota suit, countered that under state law officials must remove candidates who are deemed ineligible to protect the integrity of the election.

Between the lines: Attorneys and experts expect that the question over whether Trump can and should be blocked from running or serving under the 14th Amendment will ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • That decision would override any discrepancies between states, making Hudson's scenario about conflicting outcomes unlikely, Fein noted.

Plus: Justices also asked about Congress' role in the eligibility debate, other cases invoking the Civil War-era provision, and whether the ban on serving in office after engaging in insurrection even applies to the presidency, since the office isn't named in that section of the Constitution.

The other side: Trump has previously dismissed the legal theory as "absurd." His attorney, Nicholas Nelson, asked justices to throw out the case, arguing that the underlying issue is a political question, not a legal one.

  • He also said some of what happened on Jan. 6 "was crime, was violence, but would not reach the scale or scope of insurrection."

Of note: Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, has not taken a position on the merits of the case.

  • But his office's attorney urged the court to act swiftly so that ballots can be printed before early voting begins in January ahead of the state's March primary.

Zoom out: The arguments in Minnesota came the same week as the start of a trial raising the same question in Colorado.

  • Another lawsuit brought by Fein's group, Free Speech For People, in Michigan is in its early stages. He told reporters Thursday that they still plan to file in additional states.

What we're watching: Whether the court dismisses the case, as Trump’s attorneys urged, or orders an evidentiary hearing on whether Trump's actions meet the bar for engaging in insurrection and ballot disqualification.

  • Justices didn't provide a timeline on Thursday, but Hudson said the court would make its decision in "due course."

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