A liberal group filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block former President Donald Trump from the 2024 presidential ballot in Minnesota, the second major lawsuit in two weeks that hopes to invoke the 14th Amendment’s arcane “insurrectionist ban.”
The cases are seen as legal long shots. Trump denies wrongdoing and has vowed to fight to remain on the presidential ballot. The new Minnesota lawsuit was filed in state court by Free Speech For People, one week after another group initiated a similar challenge in Colorado.
A post-Civil War provision of the 14th Amendment says any American official who takes an oath to uphold the US Constitution is disqualified from holding future office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or have “given aid or comfort” to insurrectionists.
However, the Constitution doesn’t spell out how to enforce this ban, and it has been applied only twice since the late 1800s, when it was used against former Confederates.
“Donald J. Trump, through his words and actions, after swearing an oath as an officer of the United States to support the Constitution, then engaged in insurrection as defined by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the new lawsuit says. “He is disqualified from holding the presidency or any other office under the United States.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight Minnesota voters, including a former GOP-appointed state Supreme Court justice, a former Democratic secretary of state and an Iraq War veteran who ran his county GOP chapter.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, acknowledged in a statement last week that Minnesotans have the right under state law to challenge in court a candidate’s eligibility for office, and pledged to “honor the outcome of that process.”
He said political parties submit lists with the candidates for the primary ballot, and the parties also submit the names of their general election nominees. The names provided by the parties “will appear on the ballot … unless a court says otherwise,” Simon said.
The Republican primary in Minnesota is on March 5, which is Super Tuesday. Trump has a commanding lead in the GOP primary race nationwide, according to recent polls. The new lawsuit seeks to block Trump’s name from the primary ballot as well as the general election if he wins the nomination. Both Minnesota and Colorado have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since 2008.
The advocacy groups that levied these candidacy challenges have pledged to file lawsuits in more states as the primary season approaches. Election officials in key battleground states have said they’re watching the litigation closely, and none have publicly endorsed the idea of disqualifying Trump.
Legal scholars are divided on the viability of these 14th Amendment challenges.
In recent months, a growing and bipartisan array of constitutional scholars have thrown their support behind the theory. But experts on both sides have also expressed concern that blocking Trump from the ballot could lead to a backlash and would deprive voters the chance to decide for themselves who should be president.
“Just because a constitutional provision hasn’t been needed in a long time doesn’t make it any less critical,” Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, told CNN. “The lesson that our predecessors learned in blood was that oath-breaking insurrectionists cannot return to public office because of the danger they pose to the republic.”
His group led unsuccessful challenges last year against House Republicans from North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia, though it secured a few key rulings that could help the group’s Trump challenges. A different group successfully used the 14th Amendment to remove from office a New Mexico county official after he was convicted of breaching Capitol grounds during the January 6 attack.
Their challenges face an uphill climb, with many legal hurdles to clear before reaching the question of whether to disqualify Trump. The former president is sure to appeal any adverse rulings, which means the Supreme Court and its conservative supermajority might get the final say.
At the very least, these lawsuits have reinvigorated a national debate over whether Trump is an insurrectionist, and refocused attention on his unprecedented attempts to disrupt the lawful transfer of power.
Last year, the bipartisan House committee that investigated the January 6 attack recommended that Trump be barred from holding future office under the 14th Amendment. Since then, Trump has been indicted on separate federal and state charges stemming from his schemes to overturn the 2020 election. (He has pleaded not guilty.)
After Trump’s candidacy was challenged in Colorado last week, his campaign called the legal bid an “absurd conspiracy theory” promoted by people who are “scared to death because they see polls showing President Trump winning in the general election.”
“There is no legal basis for this effort, except in the minds of those who are pushing it,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in the statement last week.