WASHINGTON — A liberal group on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to bar former President Donald Trump from the primary ballot in Colorado, arguing he is ineligible to run for the White House again under a rarely used clause in the U.S. Constitution aimed at candidates who have supported an “insurrection.”
The lawsuit, citing the 14th Amendment, is likely the initial step in a legal challenge that seems destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. The complaint was filed on behalf of six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
It will jolt an already unsettled 2024 primary campaign that features the leading Republican candidate facing four separate criminal cases.
Liberal groups have demanded that states’ top election officials bar Trump under the clause that prohibits those who “engaged in an insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution from holding higher office. None has taken that step, looking for guidance from the courts on how to interpret a clause that has only been used a handful of times since the 1860s.
While a few fringe figures have filed thinly written lawsuits in a few states citing the clause, the litigation Wednesday was the first by an organization with significant legal resources. It may lead to similar challenges in other states, holding out the potential for conflicting rulings that would require the Supreme Court to settle.
Colorado’s secretary of state, Democrat Jena Griswold, said in a statement that she hoped “this case will provide guidance to election officials on Trump’s eligibility as a candidate for office.”
The lawsuit contends the case is clear, given the attempt by then-President Trump to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden and his support for the assault of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The Republican has said he did nothing wrong in his actions.
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, helped ensure civil rights for freed slaves — and eventually for all people in the United States. But it also was used to prevent former Confederate officials from becoming members of Congress after the Civil War and taking over the government against which they had just rebelled.
The clause cited in the lawsuit allows Congress to lift the ban, which it did in 1872 as the political will to continue to bar former Confederates dwindled. The provision was almost never used after that.
The clause cites “presidential electors” but not presidents themselves as being disqualified if they previously swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and then broke it.
In its complaint, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the court to expedite the matter so it can be resolved before the state's primary ballot is set on Jan. 5 2024.
A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
The 14th Amendment was used last year to bar from office a New Mexico county commissioner who entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That was the first time it was used in 100 years. In 1919, Congress refused to seat a socialist, contending he gave aid and comfort to the country’s enemies during World War I.
Another liberal group, Free Speech For People, unsuccessfully tried to use the provision to prevent Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina from running for reelection last year.