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Michigan Supreme Court rejects bid to keep Trump off 2024 primary ballot

Washington — The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from a group of voters in the state who challenged former President Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency under the Constitution’s “insurrection clause.”

In a brief order, the state high court denied a request from four voters to review a Michigan Court of Appeals decision that allowed Trump to remain on the Republican presidential primary ballot. The Michigan Supreme Court, composed of seven justices, said it is “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court.” The order was not signed, and a vote count was not noted.

The decision means that Trump’s name will be listed on Michigan’s presidential primary ballot. The primary is scheduled for Feb. 27.

One justice, Elizabeth Welch, dissented and wrote the only legal issue properly before the state supreme court is whether the lower courts erred in finding the Michigan secretary of state lacks the authority to exclude Trump’s name from the presidential primary ballot. Welch wrote that she agrees with the Court of Appeals that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson must place Trump on the primary ballot regardless of whether he is disqualified from holding office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, known as the “insurrection clause.”

Under Michigan law, Welch wrote, “the secretary of state is not legally required to confirm the eligibility of potential presidential primary candidates. She lacks the legal authority to remove a legally ineligible candidate from the ballot once their name has been put forward by a political party in compliance with the statutes governing primary elections.”

Trump praised the Michigan Supreme Court for its decision, saying in a social media post it “strongly and rightfully denied the Desperate Democrat attempt” to remove him from the ballot.

The decision from Michigan’s top court comes one week after the Colorado Supreme Court found that Trump is disqualified from holding office under the Constitution’s “insurrection clause.” Though the Colorado high court ordered Trump’s name to be kept off the state’s presidential primary ballot, it paused its decision until Jan. 4 to allow him time to appeal.

Trump’s campaign has said it intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision. Colorado’s primary is scheduled for March 5.

The Michigan case was brought by four voters in the state on behalf of Free Speech for People, an advocacy group that is behind challenges to Trump’s eligibility for the White House in several states. The group argued that the former president is disqualified from public office under Section 3 because of his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Enacted after the Civil War, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars anyone who has sworn an oath to support the Constitution and engaged in insurrection against it from holding federal or state office.

Unlike in Colorado, the Michigan Court of Claims did not conduct a trial or reach the question of whether Trump was disqualified under the insurrection clause. Instead, Judge James Robert Redford dismissed the case on technical grounds, finding it involved a political question that cannot be decided by the courts and concluding that the political parties determine their presidential candidates for the primary.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel agreed with the lower court in rejecting the challenge to Trump’s candidacy, finding that the Michigan secretary of state’s role in the context of presidential primary elections is limited and, beyond publishing a list of potential candidates, “purely administrative.”

The head of each political party ultimately identifies which candidates will be placed on the primary ballot, the judges said.

“The Secretary of State’s role in presidential primary elections is chiefly that of an administrator,” the Court of Appeals panel concluded. “In particular, when it comes to who is or is not placed on the primary ballot, the statutory scheme leaves nothing to the Secretary of State’s discretion. As the Court of Claims explained, who to place on the primary ballot is determined by the political parties and the individual candidates.”

The judges wrote it would be “improper” to decide whether to declare Trump ineligible for the presidency at this time.

“At the moment, the only event about to occur is the presidential primary election. But as explained, whether Trump is disqualified is irrelevant to his placement on that particular ballot,” the appellate court found.

The cases in Michigan and Colorado are among others brought in more than two dozen states that seek to keep Trump off the 2024 ballot because of his actions surrounding the Jan. 6 riot. Many, however, have been dismissed, while secretaries of states in places like New Hampshire and Oregon have said they don’t have the authority to exclude Trump from the ballots in their states.

The decision from the Colorado Supreme Court finding Trump cannot hold the presidency was unprecedented and marks the first time a presidential candidate has been deemed ineligible for the White House under Section 3.

Trump’s expected appeal of that ruling sets up a politically charged showdown before the Supreme Court that has huge implications for the 2024 presidential election.

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