Donald Trump incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but he can still appear on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Colorado next year, a Denver District Court judge ruled Friday in a case that could have national consequences.
Judge Sarah B. Wallace’s 102-page ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by a liberal political nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. It argued that Trump’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 riot disqualifies him from running for president under the 14th Amendment and that he shouldn’t be allowed to appear on Colorado’s presidential primary ballot.
Section 3 of the amendment bars “officers of the United States” who took an “oath … to support the Constitution of the United States” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” from holding federal or state office again.
Wallace found that while Trump “incited an insurrection … and therefore ‘engaged’ in an insurrection,” the 14th Amendment “does not apply to Trump” because he is not an “officer” of the United States.
“Part of the court’s decision is its reluctance to embrace an interpretation which would disqualify a presidential candidate without a clear, unmistakable indication that such is the intent of Section Three,” she wrote.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung called the ruling “another nail in the coffin of the un-American ballot challenges.”
“These cases represent the most cynical and blatant political attempts to interfere with the upcoming presidential election by desperate Democrats,” Cheung said in a statement.
Wallace’s ruling came after she heard five days of testimony, including from police officers who were at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, two congressmen and constitutional experts.
While Trump is unlikely to win the general election in Colorado in 2024 if he is the GOP nominee — he lost to President Joe Biden, a Democrat, by 13 percentage points in the state in 2020 — the ballot-access case could still have major consequences on the national stage.
The nonprofit that brought the lawsuit, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which doesn’t disclose its donors, will appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“The Court found that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection after a careful and thorough review of the evidence,” said attorney Mario Nicolais, who was representing the voters who brought the lawsuit. “We are very pleased with the opinion and look forward to addressing the sole legal issue on appeal, namely whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to insurrectionist presidents.”
Nicolais is a Colorado Sun columnist.
Legal experts believe the questions of whether Trump should be allowed to run for president again will eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in other parts of the country, none of which have been successful.
On Tuesday, Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Redford said deciding whether an event constituted “a rebellion or insurrection and whether or not someone participated in it” are questions best left to Congress and not “one single judicial officer.” A judge, he wrote, “cannot in any manner or form possibly embody the represented qualities of every citizen of the nation — as does the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
Last week, Minnesota’s Supreme Court rejected another effort to block Trump from appearing on Minnesota’s GOP primary ballot next year.
The Colorado lawsuit was brought on behalf of a group of Republican and unaffiliated voters. The defendant was Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat whose office took a neutral stance on the case.
“The court determined that Donald Trump is eligible to be placed on the Colorado ballot in the March presidential primary,” Griswold said in a written statement on Friday. “This decision may be appealed. As secretary of state, I will always ensure that every voter can make their voice heard in free and fair elections.”
Colorado’s presidential primary will be held March 4.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.