WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump is disqualified from serving as U.S. president and cannot appear on the primary ballot in Colorado because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his followers, the state’s top court ruled Tuesday.
The historic 4-3 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court, likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, makes Trump the first presidential candidate deemed ineligible for the White House under a rarely used constitutional provision that bars officials who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.
The decision applies only to Colorado’s March 5 Republican primary but it could affect Trump’s status in the state for the Nov. 5 general election. Nonpartisan U.S. election forecasters view Colorado as safely Democratic, meaning that President Joe Biden will likely win the state regardless of Trump’s fate there.
The decision sets the stage for the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, to consider whether Trump is eligible to serve another term as president.
The lawsuit is viewed as a test case for a wider effort to disqualify Trump from state ballots under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was passed after the U.S. Civil War to keep supporters of the confederacy from serving in the government.
The Colorado court concluded that the U.S. Constitution bars Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024, from appearing on the ballot because of his role instigating violence at the Capitol as lawmakers met to declare the results of the 2020 election. The court’s majority acknowledged the ruling was “uncharted territory.”
“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” the majority justices wrote. “We are aware of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us. We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the choices that the law mandates we reach.”
Trump’s campaign called the court ruling “undemocratic.”
“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court,” a spokesperson from the Trump campaign said.
The decision reverses a ruling by a lower court judge who found Trump engaged in insurrection by inciting his fans to violence, but decided that, as president, Trump was not a “officer of the United States” who could be disqualified under the amendment.
The Biden campaign refused to comment.
The case was brought by a group of Colorado voters, aided by the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who argued that Trump should be disqualified for inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol in a failed attempt to obstruct the transfer of presidential power to Biden after the 2020 election.
CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that the court’s ruling is “not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country.”
Courts have rejected several lawsuits trying to keep Trump off the primary ballot in other states. Minnesota’s top court rebuffed an effort to disqualify Trump from the Republican primary in that state, but did not decide on his overall eligibility to serve as president.
Some supporters had hoped the Colorado case would boost the overall disqualification effort and possibly put the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump’s campaign has condemned 14th Amendment challenges as an attempt to deny millions of voters their chosen choice for president.
Trump’s lawyers claimed that his speech to supporters on the day of the riot was protected by his right to free speech, adding that the constitutional amendment does not apply to U.S. presidents and that Congress would need to vote to disqualify a candidate.
Three Colorado Supreme Court justices dissented from Tuesday’s decision.
One of the dissenting justices, Carlos Samour, said in a lengthy ruling that a lawsuit is not a fair mechanism for determining Trump’s eligibility for the ballot because it deprives him of his right to due process, adding that a jury has not convicted him of insurrection.
“Even if we are convinced that a candidate committed horrible acts in the past – dare I say, engaged in insurrection – there must be procedural due process before we can declare that individual disqualified from holding public office,” Samour said.
Reporting by Kanishka Singh, Costas Pitas and Dan Whitcomb in Washington; Additional reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Editing by Deepa Babington, Noeleen Walder and Edmund Klam