Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows disqualified former US President Donald Trump from the state’s 2024 presidential primary ballot on Thursday, citing Section 3 of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Maine is now the second state to remove Trump from the ballot, joining Colorado, which removed Trump from the ballot under the same constitutional provision on December 19.
In a 34-page decision released late Thursday Bellows wrote:
I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.
Bellows’ decision stems from three challenges from Maine voters. All of the challenges fell under a provision of Maine law, known as 21-A M.R.S. §§ 336 and 337, which deals with election-related challenges.
Under Maine election law, the Secretary of State is responsible for determining whether a political candidate’s petition meets both statutory and constitutional requirements. Under § 337, Maine voters are permitted to bring challenges against political candidates’ petitions. If the Secretary of State finds that the challenge is valid and rules against the political candidate, their petition is revoked.
One voter, Mary Ann Royal, argued that Trump should be disqualified from the state’s ballot because he violated his oath of office by engaging in insurrection. Similarly, another challenge from voters Kimberley Rosen, Ethan Strimling and Maine State Senator Thomas Saviello (R) claimed that Trump is disqualified from the ballot under Section 3. The challenge from voter Paul Gordon argued that Trump is disqualified from the state’s ballot under the Twenty-Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which imposes a two-term limit on the office of the presidency. Gordon argued, “given Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and has repeatedly claimed to have won the 2020 election, he is disqualified.” Bellows held a hearing where she heard from all of the challengers and Trump.
In an attempt to stop the procedure altogether, Trump claimed that Bellows lacked the authority to disqualify him from the state’s ballot. He redoubled his efforts against Bellows on Wednesday, asking that she recuse herself from the matter. In asking for recusal, Trump cited Bellows’ political affiliation and personal bias against him. Bellows dismissed these claims in her Thursday ruling, writing, “The statutes …reflect that Maine has joined other states in choosing to enforce Section Three … and in doing so the Maine Legislature has delegated that authority to me.” She also refused Trump’s request that she recuse herself by finding the request was untimely.
Trump filed the motion for recusal on Wednesday, just a day before Bellows’ ruling. Bellows continued, “[H]ad the Motion been timely, I would have determined that I could preside over this matter impartially and without bias.”
Before turning to the challenges under Section 3, Bellows first addressed Gordon’s challenge under the Twenty-Second Amendment. She found that Trump is not disqualified under the Twenty-Second Amendment because “[a]pplication of the term limit turns on whether an individual has actually been elected President twice, not on beliefs or assertions about that fact.” Bellows found that Trump’s repeated assertion that he has won the 2020 election does not rise to the level of disqualification under the Twenty-Second Amendment because it is merely “political grandstanding.”
Bellows then turned to the two other challenges arising under Section 3. She began her findings by stating that the constitutional provision applies to candidates running for president for two reasons. First, Bellows found that Section 3 is a self-executing provision, which means it does not require any congressional action to make it effective. Second, Bellows found that the office of the presidency qualifies as an “office, civil or military, under the United States,” as described in the language of Section 3.
Upon finding that Section 3 may apply to presidential candidates like Trump, Bellows found that the provision disqualifies Trump because he engaged in insurrection on January 6, 2021 during the Capitol riot. Bellows found that Trump’s actions on that day amounted to incitement, which is enough to disqualify him under the language of Section 3.
In coming to that decision, Bellows said:
[T]he record establishes that Mr. Trump, over the course of several months and culminating on January 6, 2021, used a false narrative of election fraud to inflame his supporters and direct them to the Capitol to prevent certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power. I likewise conclude that Mr. Trump was aware of the likelihood for violence and at least initially supported its use given he both encouraged it with incendiary rhetoric and took no timely action to stop it.
Trump claimed that his statements concerning the 2020 election amount to protected speech under the First Amendment. But Bellows dismissed those claims. She found that, because “Mr. Trump intended to incite lawless action, his speech is unprotected by the First Amendment.” Bellows also noted that she is not aware of any case law that supports a First Amendment override to the qualifications required for a political candidate.
Bellows concluded by stating:
The events of January 6, 2021 were unprecedented and tragic. They were an attack not only upon the Capitol and government officials, but also an attack on the rule of law … . The U.S. Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Section 336 requires me to act in response.
Bellows ultimately found that Section 3 applies to Trump, meaning his statements on elections paperwork in Maine—that he is qualified under both statutory and constitutional requirements—are false. Because of that, Trump is disqualified from appearing on Maine’s primary ballot for the 2024 presidential election. The ruling is currently suspended, however, while the appeals process plays out.
Trump has already stated that he intends to appeal the ruling. “We are witnessing, in real-time, the attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter,” said Trump Campaign Spokesman Steven Cheung on Thursday. “We will quickly file a legal objection in state court to prevent this atrocious decision in Maine from taking effect.”