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U.S. Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on 2024 presidential ballots

Former President Donald Trump points out the media on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at a “Save America!” Rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Former President Donald Trump points out the media in June 2022 at a “Save America!” Rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Illinois.

Updated March 4, 2024 at 10:15 AM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court restored Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on the Colorado primary ballot, ruling the state lacked authority to disqualify him after his actions three years ago during the siege on the U.S. Capitol.

The unanimous decision came only weeks after the justices heard oral argumentsin the politically sensitive case that put the high court in the middle of the 2024 presidential election. And it comes a week after the court said it would hear arguments next monthin a case that seeks to answer whether Trump enjoys broad immunity for his actions on Jan. 6.

In a post on Truth, his social media platform, Trump called the opiniona "BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!"

Six Colorado votersargued that Trump had run afoul of a post-Civil War law that bars people who took an oath to support the Constitution from engaging in an insurrection or rebellion. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has never been used against a presidential candidate, and it's only been deployed eight times since the 1860s.

But Jason Murray, the lawyer for the voters, ran into rough territory at the Supreme Court, where justices across the ideological spectrum tossed difficult questions his way.

"What about the idea that we should think about democracy?" asked Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed by Trump. "Because your position has the effect of disenfranchising voters to a significant degree."

"I think the question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States," said Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee.

Chief Justice John Roberts said he could foresee, in the not-too-distant future, a world in which some states would try to boot the Democratic nominee from the ballot, and others would use Section 3 to do the same for the Republican candidate.

"It will come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election," Roberts said. "That's a pretty daunting consequence."

The case has been closely watched by legal experts and election administrators across the nation. Many of them had filed friend-of-the-court briefs asking the justices to rule swiftly, and decisively, before millions more American voters head to the polls.

The question about Trump's disqualification in Colorado has been playing out in different ways in dozens of other states. Maine's secretary of state found that Trump is disqualifiedfrom appearing on Maine's primary ballot, but the decision was stayed pending Trump's appeal. Litigation is also pending in 11 other states.

Jonathan Mitchell, a lawyer for Trump, made a series of arguments to keep the former president on the ballot. Among them: Trump is not covered by that part of the Constitution because he took a different oath of office, and that Congress would need to act, and answer key questions about disqualification, before any candidate could be removed from the ballot.

But Murray, the lawyer for the Colorado voters, pushed back at that idea.

"Those who drafted Section 3 of the 14th Amendment back in the 1860s were very clear that they understood this provision not just to cover former Confederates but that it would stand as a shield to protect our Constitution for all time going forward, and so this is not some dusty relic," he said.

NPR Legal Intern Elissa Harwood contributed to this report

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.