Lawyers for Trump urge the Supreme Court 'to put a swift and decisive end' to ballot removal efforts

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (Matt Rourke, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Thursday urged the Supreme Court “to put a swift and decisive end” to efforts to kick him off the 2024 presidential ballot over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

In a written filing, Trump's lawyers called on the court to reverse a first-of-its-kind Colorado Supreme Court decision that said Trump should not be on the state's Republican primary ballot because of his role in the events that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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The justices are hearing arguments Feb. 8 in a case that both sides say needs to be resolved quickly so that voters know whether Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president, is eligible to hold the presidency.

The court is dealing with the dispute under a compressed timeframe that could produce a decision before Super Tuesday on March 5, when the largest number of delegates are up for grabs in a single day, including in Colorado.

The case presents the high court with its first look at a provision of the 14th Amendment barring some people who “engaged in insurrection” from holding public office. The amendment was adopted in 1868, following the Civil War.

Efforts to keep Trump off the ballot “threaten to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans and ... promise to unleash chaos and bedlam if other state courts and state officials follow Colorado’s lead and exclude the likely Republican presidential nominee from their ballots,” Trump's lawyers wrote.

Trump should win on many grounds, they wrote, including that he has not engaged in insurrection. “In fact, the opposite is true, as President Trump repeatedly called for peace, patriotism, and law and order,” the lawyers wrote.

The Colorado court noted that Trump had held a rally outside the White House and exhorted his supporters to “fight like hell” before they walked to the Capitol.

Trump's Supreme Court team is led by Texas-based lawyer Jonathan Mitchell, who devised aspects of the anti-abortion legislation that largely shut down abortions in Texas months before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022.

Republican members of Congress, attorneys general and Republican legislative leaders in 27 states, and three former U.S. attorneys general, including one who served Trump, are among those who have weighed in to back him in the Colorado case.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson are among nearly 180 Republicans in Congress who have warned that a ruling upholding Colorado's decision to remove Trump from the ballot would inevitably lead to tit-for-tat disqualifications of political opponents.

Colorado’s Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, ruled last month that Trump should not be on the Republican primary ballot.

A two-sentence provision in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states that anyone who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it is no longer eligible for state or federal office. After Congress passed an amnesty for most of the former confederates the measure targeted in 1872, the provision fell into disuse until dozens of suits were filed to keep Trump off the ballot this year. Only the one in Colorado was successful.

Trump is separately appealing to state court a ruling by Maine’s Democratic secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, that he is ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot over his role in the Capitol attack. Both the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state’s rulings are on hold until the appeals play out.

The high court’s decision to intervene, which both sides have called for, is the most direct involvement in a presidential election since Bush v. Gore in 2000, when a conservative majority effectively decided the election for Republican George W. Bush. Only Justice Clarence Thomas remains from that court.

Three of the nine current Supreme Court justices were appointed by Trump, though they have repeatedly ruled against him in 2020 election-related lawsuits, as well as on his efforts to keep documents related to Jan. 6 and his tax returns from being turned over to congressional committees.

The issue of whether Trump can be on the ballot is not the only matter related to the former president or Jan. 6 that has reached the high court. The justices last month declined a request from special counsel Jack Smith to swiftly take up and rule on Trump’s claims that he is immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, though the issue could be back before the court soon depending on the ruling of a Washington-based appeals court.

And the court has said that it intends to hear an appeal that could upend hundreds of charges stemming from the Capitol riot, including against Trump.