A Colorado judge said Monday she hopes to decide by Thanksgiving whether the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists holding office means former President Donald Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state’s presidential ballot in 2024.
Judge Sarah Wallace made the comments at a hearing in which she set an expedited schedule for the case, which was initiated by a watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, on behalf of a group of Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters.
Lawyers for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, did not take a position on the lawsuit Monday but emphasized a “hard deadline” of January 5 for it to be settled. Her office is required by that date to certify the names of all candidates that will be printed on the state’s presidential primary election, set for March 5.
Hearings are scheduled for late October to review evidence, hear from witnesses and handle various challenges to the lawsuit – the majority of which have not yet been filed by Trump’s attorneys – paving the way for a likely ruling by Thanksgiving.
This was the first major hearing in a 14th Amendment disqualification case against Trump. Liberal activists and constitutional scholars from across the ideological spectrum have expressed support for the theory that Trump’s actions after the 2020 election bar him from holding future office.
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 if they have “given aid or comfort” to insurrectionists. However, the Constitution does not spell out how to enforce this ban, and it has been applied only twice since the late 1800s, when it was used extensively against former Confederates.
CREW sued Griswold and Trump in Colorado state court. The group wants a judge to prohibit Griswold from printing ballots with Trump’s name for the GOP primary on March 5 and the general election in November 2024, if he is the Republican nominee.
Trump denies wrongdoing regarding the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot and has attacked CREW by name at recent political events. A Trump campaign spokesman previously said those promoting the 14th Amendment disqualification idea are “stretching the law beyond recognition.”
The judge said Monday that she expects her eventual ruling will be appealed. Most legal experts believe the US Supreme Court will likely get the final say on these matters ahead of the 2024 election.
“I see my job here, at least in part, as getting this to the Colorado Supreme Court, assuming it proceeds forward,” Wallace said. “And I think I need to get them a ruling by Thanksgiving, and I’m not going to rule from the bench in a case like this.”
At the hearing, Trump’s lawyers signaled how they’ll try to shut down the challenge, with a motion to dismiss expected this month. They argued the lawsuit is an attempt to trample Trump’s First Amendment rights and said CREW was rushing to move the case forward too quickly.
“It’s a big onion with a lot of layers. We want to fully understand those layers,” said Trump lawyer Scott Gessler, who previously served as Colorado’s secretary of state.
Gessler said that he does “believe a sense of urgency is warranted” in resolving the lawsuit but that CREW’s proposed speedy timetable was an unnecessary “hair-on-fire approach.”
A similar challenge against Trump is underway in Minnesota, led by a different group. More lawsuits are expected as the 2024 primaries approach and as Trump holds a commanding lead in the GOP race.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the political affiliations of a group of Colorado voters who filed a lawsuit seeking to bar Trump from the ballot.