The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Colorado and Maine deemed former President Donald Trump ineligible for the states' Republican primary ballots. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

1968 Wharton graduate and former President Donald Trump was disqualified from the Colorado and Maine Republican primary ballots after being found to have engaged in insurrection.

The Colorado Supreme Court deemed Trump ineligible in a decision on Dec. 19, 2023, marking the first time a court found Trump ineligible to seek office — and was followed by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows on Dec. 29, 2023. 

Deliberations in both states hinged on whether the events of Jan. 6, 2021 constituted an insurrection, whether Trump was actively engaged in it, and the applicability of Section 3 of the United States Constitution's 14th Amendment — a Reconstruction Amendment adopted shortly following the Civil War — to the presidency. The amendment states that no one who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution, is eligible to hold any office in the country. 

The Colorado Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Jena Griswold to exclude Trump's name from the ballot — a decision that could influence both the primary and the general election.

A four-justice majority delivered the ruling, finding that “President Trump did not merely incite the insurrection … [His] actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection.” Three justices dissented, citing procedural issues and a perceived lack of due process.

Colorado Supreme Court Associate Justice Richard Gabriel, a 1987 graduate of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, voted in favor of the ruling. During his time at Penn, he was an articles editor for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Gabriel was sworn into his first judgeship in 2008 and appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015. 

The Colorado ruling reflects an interpretation of the 14th Amendment extending beyond holding office to include seeking office. Trump's lawyers contested this stance in their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for appeal.

Trump's campaign has denounced the decision and suggested that it is a political attack. His main rivals for the Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, have criticized the ruling as an attack from the left and an abuse of power.

Trump’s campaign appealed Colorado's decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Jan. 5 to decide his eligibility for the state’s Republican primary ballot. The pending case is set for oral argument on Feb. 8, with a decision expected shortly afterwards — likely prior to Colorado's presidential primary elections on March 5. The Court has a 6-to-3 conservative majority, with three justices appointed by Trump during his presidential tenure. 

Ten days later, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows became the first elected official to unilaterally disqualify Trump from an election ballot. Under the state’s law, voters are required to petition the secretary of state to challenge a candidate’s eligibility for office before a public hearing is held. Three challenges were submitted to Bellows, two of which cited the same constitutional amendment employed in Colorado’s ruling.

“The weight of the evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder laid by his multi-month effort to delegitimize a democratic election, and then chose to light a match,” Bellows wrote in her decision. 

Trump appealed the Maine ruling to a state court, with his lawyers arguing Bellows was biased and lacked legal authority to consider federal constitutional issues. The Maine Superior Court ruled on Jan. 17 that Bellows must wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Colorado's case to decide whether Trump will remain on Maine's ballot.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in over thirty other states — twenty of which have failed for varying reasons. This includes an interpretation that presidents are not "an officer of the United States" and therefore not subject to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — the rationale held by Colorado's lower court before being overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. A case in Pennsylvania was voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs.

“Pennsylvania's Election Code does not give me, as Secretary of the Commonwealth, the authority to reject a nomination petition,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt said. ”In Pennsylvania, that is a question that can be answered only by the courts.”

In Sept. 2023, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that an article written by two conservative law professors in the Penn Law Review concluded Trump was constitutionally ineligible to serve as president again.