The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld on Wednesday former US President Donald Trump’s placement on the Republican primary ballot for the 2024 presidential race amidst debates over his constitutional eligibility to appear on the ballot. Several Minnesota voters petitioned the court to remove Trump from the ballot based on Section 3 of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which bars from office any individual who has engaged in insurrection after taking a government oath.
Central to this debate is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The pertinent language from the amendment, as it relates to this case, asserts: “No person … who, having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” In support of their argument, the petitioners referred the court to Trump’s role in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
The court’s judgment reflected on the language of the amendment but emphasized the absence of a Minnesota statute that aligns with this constitutional provision to disqualify a candidate from the primary ballot. In its judgment, the court stated, “[T]here is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot, or sending delegates to the national convention supporting, a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.”
In addition, the court also emphasized the primary as an internal party function that adds to the national conversation and the legal complexities surrounding election law and constitutional provisions. The court said:
Thus, although the Secretary of State and other election officials administer the mechanics of the election, this is an internal party election to serve internal party purposes, and winning the presidential nomination primary does not place the person on the general election ballot as a candidate for President of the United States.
While the court upheld Trump’s eligibility to appear on the primary ballot, the ruling leaves open the potential for future legal action concerning Trump’s qualification for the general election. The court’s dismissal “without prejudice” allows petitioners to raise their claims again at a later date. Legal Director of Free Speech For People, the organization that brought the suit on behalf of Minnesota voters, Ron Fein stated, “[T]he Minnesota Supreme Court explicitly recognized that the question of Donald Trump’s disqualification for engaging in insurrection against the U.S. Constitution may be resolved at a later stage.” Fein also noted that the decision is not binding on courts outside of Minnesota.
The court’s decision echoes legal actions in other states, including California and Colorado, where lawmakers and voters have similarly sought to challenge Trump’s eligibility on similar grounds. In September, California lawmakers sought an official opinion on Trump’s eligibility, reflecting on previous court acknowledgments of the Capitol riot as an insurrection and invoking the 14th Amendment as a potential barrier to Trump’s candidacy. Similarly, in Colorado, voters filed a lawsuit to remove Trump from the ballot, citing his actions as disqualifying under the same constitutional provision.
Legal interpretations vary, with some scholars arguing that Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021, could fall under this disqualification. Others, including notable Federalist Society members, argue that this provision does not apply to the presidency or is not enforceable without congressional action.