Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) cannot bar Donald Trump from the primary ballot based on a novel interpretation of an obscure clause in a Civil War-era amendment, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Robert Redford ruled that Secretary of State Benson must list all candidates running for the presidency on the primary ballot, citing Michigan law.
His opinion is a blow to lawsuits in states across the nation seeking to use the Fourteenth Amendment to keep Trump off the ballot. Section 3 of the amendment, known as the “Insurrection Clause,” was intended to prevent former Confederates from serving in the United States government, Trump’s attorneys claim.
Judge Redford said that Congress must make the determination whether Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021, disqualify him from appearing on the ballot.
He said, in addition to Congress possessing the authority to remove a disqualification under Section 3 – as Congress did with a blanket law providing amnesty to many Confederates – it also “possesses the broader ‘proactive’ power to decide how to apply Section 3 in the first instance.”
The judge noted that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment gives Congress the “power to enforce by appropriate legislation the provisions of this article.”
The House, under a Democratic majority, twice impeached Trump, including once for his actions on January 6, but he was acquitted by the Senate. Congress has never determined, legislatively or otherwise, Trump is guilty of “an act of insurrection.”
Trump’s legal team insists that what occurred on January 6, 2001 was not an insurrection and further that Trump was not responsible.
The Supreme Court has never ruled on Section 3, fueling lawsuits from leftwing groups across the country in courts that might be amenable to their interpretation.
Trump’s attorneys have argued the amendment does not even apply to presidents, given that the presidency is not among the many positions specified in the text. The oath specified in the amendment is also different from the presidential oath, lending further credence to their argument.
“While the Trump campaign welcomes these dismissals in Michigan and anticipates the future dismissals of the other 14th Amendment cases, we are most focused on once again winning the great state of Michigan and the re-election of President Trump next year,” said Trump spokesman Steven Cheung, calling the litany of similar cases “left-wing fantasies.”
Benson, a Democrat, had agreed she had no authority to keep Trump off the ballot.
Plaintiffs in the Michigan case have vowed to appeal.
The case is LaBryant. v. Benson, Case No. 23-000137-MZ in the Michigan Court of Claims.
Follow Bradley Jaye on Twitter at @BradleyAJaye.
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