Donald Trump wrongly removed from Colorado primary ballot, US supreme court rules

Court overturns state ruling that former president could not run because of engagement in January 6th Capitol riots

The US supreme court has ruled that former president Donald Trump was wrongly removed from Colorado’s primary ballot last year. All nine justices found that the Colorado supreme court had “erred” in its ruling that Mr Trump should be excluded under the “insurrection clause” of the 14th amendment because of his role in the attacks on Congress on January 6th, 2021.

Although the decision was widely expected to fall in Mr Trump’s favour, it represents a significant victory in advance of the Republican primary in Colorado this week. Colorado is one of the 16 states and one territory which will cast votes on Super Tuesday.

Speaking from Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, Mr Trump praised the ruling and suggested that “it will go a long way to bringing our country together. They worked long, they worked hard and frankly they worked very quickly on something that will be spoken of 100 years from now. Essentially, you cannot take somebody out of a race because their opponent would like to have it that way. The voters can take the person out of the race very quickly. But a court shouldn’t be doing that and the supreme court saw that very well.”

The 213-page ruling effectively found that the United States Congress, rather than state courts, is responsible for enforcing section 3 of the 14th amendment, a hitherto obscure piece of legislation drafted to deal with elected officials in the immediate aftermath of the American civil war.


The thrust of the ruling stipulates that “because the constitution makes Congress, rather than the states, responsible” for the enforcement of section 3, the Colorado state supreme court “erred in ordering former president Trump excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot”.

The decision brings to a close a legal tussle emanating from the sensational ruling by the Colorado supreme court in December that found Mr Trump ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th amendment. That amendment was made in June 1868, three years after the end of the civil war. It says any member of Congress or officer of the United States who engages in insurrection after swearing to support the constitution is barred from holding office.

The lawsuit was brought by six Colorado voters, including four Republicans, and led by Norma Anderson, the 91-year-old former state legislator who, when asked to become involved in the case, said she didn’t hesitate because of what she witnessed on the day of January 6th, 2021, when there was an attack on the US Capitol by Mr Trump’s supporters.

“Trump wanted to overturn an election. That’s insurrection and that’s where the 14th amendment comes in,” Ms Anderson said in an interview before the US supreme court hearing.

“If you go back and read Hamilton and some of what he wrote, he refers to the president as an officer.”

The case centred on an obscure clause, section 3, the insurrection clause, which became the focus of the US supreme court hearing in February. Over a wide-ranging and at-times tortured discourse on the substance of the Colorado argument, it became apparent that the justices were sceptical about the merits of the argument. Pointedly, there was no substantive debate or examination during that hearing as to whether Mr Trump’s actions on the day of January 6th were tantamount to insurrection. The arguments were limited to the radically opposed interpretations of section 3 as brought by Mr Trump’s legal team and the Colorado representatives.

On Sunday night, the US supreme court announced it would make a Monday morning online decision without taking the bench. While it did not explicitly state that the ruling would refer to the Trump appeal on the Colorado decision, the timing of the supreme court ruling, on the eve of Super Tuesday, put a close to the uncertainty of whether or not the former president will appear on state ballots.

The states of Maine and Illinois had joined Colorado in deeming Mr Trump ineligible from appearing on their presidential ballots. Those decisions were put on hold pending the US supreme court’s ruling on the Colorado case. Monday’s ruling touched on the potential chaos of a “patchwork” scenario of independent state decisions on the eligibility of candidates, noting that “procedures for excluding an ineligible candidate from the ballot may not exist at all”, bringing about a scenario that would sever the direct link between the framers of the constitution and the people.

“An evolving electoral map could dramatically change the behaviour of voters, parties and states across the country, in different ways and at different times,” the judgment said.

“The disruption would be all the more acute – and could nullify the votes of millions and change the election result – if section 3 enforcement were attempted after the nation has voted.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times