A Colorado judge issued a stunning ruling on Friday that fell just short of removing former President Donald Trump from the state’s 2024 ballot based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrectionist ban.
Although the 102-page ruling was in favour of Trump, it seemed more like a denunciation.
Though appeals are pending, this is the GOP frontrunner’s most recent court triumph. He has since maintained his candidature in numerous crucial states, including Michigan and Minnesota.
After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was passed, which states that public servants who swear to uphold the Constitution will not be allowed to hold office again if they “engaged in insurrection.” Since the ban has only been imposed twice since 1919 and the Constitution doesn’t specify how it will be enforced, many experts consider the chances of success in these actions to be slim.
Legal experts predict that before the 2024 primary elections start, the Supreme Court will be consulted.
The Colorado ruling isn’t binding on other courts, but it’s the most comprehensive fact-finding to date by a judge about Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. And it could factor into future challenges that are brought about by the general election or even block Trump from taking office if he wins next November.
Here are four takeaways from the major ruling in Colorado:
Trump engaged in insurrection, judge says
Based on testimony from US Capitol Police officers, congressmen, and experts regarding right-wing extremism, Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace came to the conclusion that Trump was involved in the January 6, 2021, uprising.
The challengers were able to get beyond this significant legal obstacle. Furthermore, it is a landmark decision in the pursuit of January 6 accountability as it is the first time a national court has determined that Trump participated in the uprising.
Wallace determined that Trump “actively primed the anger of his extremist supporters” and “acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol.”
She also found that Trump “acted with the specific intent to disrupt the Electoral College certification of President Biden’s electoral victory through unlawful means.”
It is a very noteworthy discovery, even though this litigation is not a criminal matter. The federal criminal charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith, who charged Trump with unlawfully interfering with the Electoral College proceedings, are closely aligned with this.
How this might affect the criminal case is unknown. But very few judges in the country have examined Trump’s post-election conduct as closely as Wallace has in this litigation.
Free Speech Defense Fails in Trump Case
Interestingly, Wallace provided a comprehensive legal analysis of Trump’s fiery remarks at the Ellipse. She spent seventeen pages analysing Trump’s remarks to see if they met the legal threshold for inciting violence.
Trump has maintained that, in light of Supreme Court rulings in First Amendment cases involving incitement, his remarks on that particular day qualified as protected speech on multiple occasions. In Colorado, his attorneys likewise advanced that claim.
But Wallace rejected those free-speech defences and instead concluded that his speech that day “was intended as, and was understood by a portion of the crowd as, a call to arms.”
“The Court finds that Trump’s Ellipse speech incited imminent lawless violence,” she wrote.
“Trump did so explicitly by telling the crowd repeatedly to ‘fight’ and to ‘fight like hell,’ to ‘walk down to the Capitol,’ and that they needed to ‘take back our country’ through ‘strength.’ He did so implicitly by encouraging the crowd that they could play by’very different rules’ because of the supposed fraudulent election.”
Presidential Exception to Insurrectionist Ban
Wallace decided, on very specific grounds, that Trump should stay on Colorado’s ballot despite all of those damning facts because it appears that presidents are exempt from the constitution’s restriction on insurrectionists.
The provision says, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State,” if they took an oath to “support” the constitution and then engaged in insurrection.
But it doesn’t say anything about the presidency. And furthermore, the presidential oath doesn’t say anything about “supporting” the Constitution; it’s to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution.
So, despite “persuasive arguments on both sides,” Wallace said she was “persuaded that ‘officers of the United States’ did not include the President of the United States” and that “for whatever reason, the drafters of Section Three did not intend to include a person who had only taken the Presidential Oath.”
“Whether this omission was intentional, or an oversight is not for this Court to decide,” Wallace said, noting that Trump was the first president in US history to have never served in government before ascending to the White House, meaning he never swore the oath to “support” the Constitution that lawmakers and military officers take.
Court Validates January 6 Committee’s Findings
Despite their assertions that the panel was “overwhelmingly biassed” against Trump, the judge accepted significant portions of the House January 6 committee report and stated that the Trump team was unable to refute its conclusions.
Composed of two anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats, the January 6 committee recommended disqualifying Trump under the 14th Amendment and charged him of encouraging the uprising.
“The Court holds that the January 6th Report is reliable and trustworthy and thereby admissible” as evidence, Wallace wrote, a crucial decision, because the anti-Trump challengers used the panel’s findings as the foundation of their unprecedented legal challenge.
Trump has been railing at the now-defunct January 6 committee for years, calling its members “thugs and scoundrels” and claiming they were spreading a “monstrous lie” about his role in the uprising.
In an attempt to persuade Wallace to disregard the panel’s conclusions, his attorneys produced evidence during the trial refuting the panel’s findings that Trump was aware of the violence and attempted to provoke the riot. They failed, though.
“Trump was unable to provide the Court with any credible evidence which would discredit the factual findings of the January 6th Report,” Wallace said.