DENVER — The 14th Amendment is best known for giving equal protection to freed slaves.
A lawsuit filed in Denver on Wednesday seeks to use the 14th Amendment to try to keep former President Donald Trump off Colorado ballots next year.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, spells out how engaging in an insurrection can disqualify a candidate from running for office.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW – is a liberal Washington, D.C. group that filed the lawsuit with the assistance of six local voters.
“I have a little Constitution that sits by my desk where I sit at night. And I had it all marked up, so I knew what it was,” Norma Anderson, former Republican state senator, said.
Anderson said that she was contacted by CREW to be a local resident filing suit against Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Donald Trump.
She’s joined on the lawsuit by Republican voters Michelle Priola, Claudine Cmarada and Krista Kafer, along with unaffiliated voters Kathi Wright and Christopher Castilian.
Republicans and unaffiliateds are allowed to vote in Republican primaries in Colorado.
“January 6 was trying to overtake the government. And [the 14th Amendment] spells it out very clearly, if you do that, that’s a no-no, you can’t serve in any position, elected, local or national,” Anderson said. “And I sat and watched on TV, the whole day, sat and cried and watched my government being attacked. That attacks my Constitution.”
In a conference call on Wednesday, representatives of CREW would not say how many states they plan to attempt this effort to keep Trump off election ballots.
“That remains to be seen. We’re starting in Colorado,” said CREW CEO Noah Bookbinder. “It won’t be the last action that we bring and, I suspect, that others bring. It’s going to be an evolving process and we can’t yet say exactly where and how many states we’ll bring these.”
“I haven’t asked, but I would suspect they will go to other states, and maybe, just maybe, and I’ve not been told this, that this is a practice state,” Anderson said.
Amendment 14 - Section 3
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
On Sept. 6, 2022, CREW successfully sued in New Mexico court to have a local county commissioner removed from office. A New Mexico judge determined that Couy Griffin participated in the January 6 insurrection and removed him from office based on the 14th Amendment.
The 14th Amendment argument was rejected in an administrative effort in Georgia to keep Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene off Georgia ballots.
Mario Nicolais is one of the local attorneys working on this lawsuit and explained why it is not a premature challenge.
“He is already a candidate. He’s announced he’s a candidate. He’s a candidate under Colorado law. He could file his paperwork tomorrow,” Nicolais said.
But Trump has not filed the paperwork yet.
In Colorado, besides being a natural born citizen and at least 35 years old, Trump must file paperwork saying the Republican Party approves of his candidacy and his own paperwork declaring himself a candidate. He must also pay $500 or submit at least 5,000 valid Republican voter signatures from Colorado. He has not done any of that yet.
“You can file a lawsuit when the Secretary of State is about to commit a wrong, and in this case, we think that if the Secretary accepts that paperwork, accepts a filing, that’s a wrong,” Nicolais said.
Both Nicolais and CREW admitted that this will be challenged and appealed regardless of what happens.
“Eventually we’re going to go to the Supreme Court, and that will have a domino effect across other states as well,” Nicolais said. “Some states don’t have the laws that we do, the state laws, that allow for a challenge.”
The Colorado presidential primary ballot needs to be certified by Jan. 5, 2024.
“Four months, bringing it right now is already going to be an incredible time crunch to have this case heard, to have it appealed, to have it potentially go up to the Supreme Court,” Nicolais said.
The presidential primary in Colorado is March 5, 2024.
“It’s not just the presidential primary ballot, it’s any ballot that he’s ever on that we want them to declare that he doesn’t have the right to be on any ballot,” Nicolais said.
In a statement from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, Griswold said, “I look forward to the Colorado Court’s substantive resolution of the issues, and am hopeful that this case will provide guidance to election officials on Trump’s eligibility as a candidate for office.”
An emailed question to the Secretary of State’s Office asking why Griswold cannot proactively determine a candidate’s eligibility was not directly answered.
The Colorado GOP put out a statement bashing the lawsuit, while asking for donations.
“Never-Trumpers, RINO's (Republicans in Name Only), & Democrats are colluding to block Trump from accessing the 2024 Colorado Republican Primary Ballot. We won't let them get away with it without a fight. Colorado Republicans will decide who gets on the primary ballot, not corrupt Democrats or a leftwing judge,” the statement said.
If Trump remains on the ballot despite this lawsuit, Anderson said she will not be voting for him.
“Hell no. Pardon me, that wasn’t nice. No, I am not. I didn’t vote for him the first time, and I will never vote for him,” Anderson said.
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