Efforts to keep former President Trump off the ballot under the 14th Amendment reached the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday, with several justices during oral arguments appearing wary that they should be the ones to determine Trump’s eligibility.
The case, brought by a left-leaning nonprofit, is one of multiple across the country seeking to prevent Trump from returning to the presidency under the clause, which provides that anyone who took an oath to support the Constitution but then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” cannot hold office.
Thursday’s arguments concerned several legal issues the nonprofit must prevail on so their case can move ahead: Does the clause apply to presidents? Can the provision be enforced without legislation from Congress? Is the issue a political question outside of the court’s authority?
Five Minnesota Supreme Court justices, four of whom were appointed by Democrats, are weighing the case after two others on the court recused. Several justices Thursday expressed concerns about the various threshold issues.
“I think your argument about the political question doctrine is — I think that’s a very serious problem for the other side on this case,” Justice Barry Anderson told Trump’s attorney.
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Chief Justice Natalie Hudson suggested “this is a national matter for Congress to decide” and that, even if her court did have authority, she would still hesitate.
“Should we do it? Even if we could do it and we can do it?” Hudson said.
Ron Fein, legal director for Free Speech For People, the nonprofit that filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight Minnesota voters, said the court’s intervention is necessary to “uphold the U.S. Constitution and defend American democracy.”
“Donald Trump engaged in rebellion and insurrection against the Constitution of the United States in a desperate attempt to remain in office after losing the election,” Fein told the justices.
“Section Three of the 14th Amendment protects the republic from oath-breaking insurrectionists, because its framers understood that, if they’re allowed back into power, they will do the same or worse. Section Three’s plain text bars Trump from ever holding office,” he added.
Fein asked the justices to allow the case to move ahead and order an evidentiary hearing. Whatever the outcome, Minnesota’s secretary of state has asked for a resolution by early January so there is sufficient time to prepare for the primary.
Minnesota’s case is similar to other 14th Amendment cases that have been filed in states across the country. A trial is underway in Colorado on Trump’s eligibility, while other cases are proceeding in earlier stages.
Trump and his campaign contend that state courts stepping in could cause chaos, if different courts reach conflicting conclusions.
“When parties asked the courts to step into that process, and to decide who can or can’t be president, the courts overwhelmingly say that’s not a decision that should be made in the judiciary, that’s a decision that should be made elsewhere,” argued Nicholas Nelson, Trump’s attorney.
Reid LeBeau, an attorney representing the Republican Party of Minnesota, echoed that thinking at Thursday’s argument. The party also argues a judicial intervention would infringe upon the party’s First Amendment right to choose their own candidate to associate with.
“At the end of the primrose path that they’ve created, we could potentially have 50 different states with 50 different ballots with none of the same people appearing on the ballot,” LeBeau said.
Hudson later noted, “That’s why we have a U.S. Supreme Court, which is where this probably should be decided.”