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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate, on March 4, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla.Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has swept away one of the few remaining obstacles to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, ruling unanimously that Colorado could not remove him from that state’s primary ballot.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars from office anyone who has taken an oath and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the country. In December, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump must be taken off the state’s ballot because he had engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters entered the U.S. Capitol after a speech by the former president.

But the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that decision on Monday, saying Congress, not individual states, holds responsibility for enforcing a constitutional provision that bars insurrectionists from holding many federal offices. The majority decision said Congress must pass legislation to do so, though this prompted a warning from the three liberal justices that the ruling was so broad it risks providing legal cover for future insurrectionists.

The ruling was released a day before Super Tuesday, when voters in 15 states – including Colorado – will cast ballots in primary elections and caucuses. If Mr. Trump continues his domination of the Republican race, wins in those states will put him within striking distance of the party’s presidential nomination.

Mr. Trump, in remarks Monday, said the court ruling would support national unity.

“You cannot take somebody out of a race. The voters can take the person out of the race very quickly. But a court shouldn’t be doing that,” he said in Florida, before lashing out at “rogue prosecutors” and “rogue judges” involved in criminal cases that continue to proceed against him.

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In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said allowing individual states disqualification powers over federal office threatened a patchwork of state-by-state outcomes, with worse consequences if some acted after a national vote.

“Nothing in the Constitution requires that we endure such chaos – arriving at any time or different times, up to and perhaps beyond the Inauguration,” the court wrote in its majority opinion.

Individual states “may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency.”

In a statement, lawyer Harmeet Dhillon, whose legal firm has represented Mr. Trump in his efforts to remain on the ballot, said “the attempt to use the 14th Amendment in this manner was a dangerous overreach that, if left unchallenged, could have set a perilous precedent for future election.”

The court decision marks a victory “not just for President Trump but for the integrity of our electoral system and the rights of voters across the country.”

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Greensboro, N.C. on March 2.Chris Carlson/The Associated Press

The court cited Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, “which enables Congress, subject of course to judicial review, to pass ‘appropriate legislation’ to ‘enforce’ the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The “appropriate legislation” language was contested as “gratuitous” by liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. The majority decision, they warned in a concurring decision, means Section 3 of the 14th Amendment can only be enforced through legislation, rather than as a matter of judicial enforcement of constitutional law.

“By resolving these and other questions, the majority attempts to insulate all alleged insurrectionists from future challenges to their holding federal office,” they wrote.

Orders had been made in three states to remove Mr. Trump from ballots. In December, Maine’s Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, ruled 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.” She suspended her ruling pending appeal.

Last week, a county judge in Illinois also ruled against Mr. Trump, although that ruling, too, was stayed until it could be reviewed by superior courts.

Douglas Spencer, an associate professor at the University of Colorado who specializes in election law, said Monday’s ruling means the Maine and Illinois decisions will be struck down and remaining cases challenging Mr. Trump’s ballot eligibility should be promptly dismissed.

The decision precludes federal lawsuits or White House action as a response to future insurrectionists, and decrees that “Congress has to be extraordinarily clear” in legislating on insurrection.

“They can’t, for example, pass a general law that says all candidates shall follow the law,” Prof. Spencer said. He added that “the upshot is we have clarity. And at this moment, to me, clarity is probably more important than even the substance in some way.”

The Colorado suit was brought by six conservative voters in the state, including Norma Anderson, a 91-year-old who is among that state’s most accomplished Republicans. She spent nearly two decades in the Colorado legislature, and regularly thumbs through a paper copy of the Constitution.

She faulted the U.S. Supreme Court for acting out of fear of short-term disruption, citing its invocation of “chaos.”

But “the word ‘chaos’ does not appear” in the Constitution, she said in an interview. " ‘Insurrection’ does appear.”

Although the court may have averted election-year upheaval, Ms. Anderson believes it has further empowered Mr. Trump, who has “learned what he could get away with.”

Donald Sherman, the executive vice-president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which supported the bid to remove Mr. Trump from the Colorado ballot, pointed out that the Supreme Court had not exonerated the former president’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021.

“We proved that Donald Trump is an oath breaking insurrectionist. He won on a technicality,” Mr. Sherman wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

But in making Congress the sole arbiter of insurrection, the court has constrained enforcement of a constitutional safeguard, said Krista Kafer, one of the voters who brought the Colorado case. The drafters of the 14th Amendment “realized that sometimes neither politicians nor voters can be counted upon to say no to a demagogue,” she said.

In a brief separate opinion, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett agreed that the court had no reason to weigh the question of whether legislation alone can be used to enforce the insurrection provisions.

But the court “has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election,” she wrote.

“Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up. For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case. That is the message Americans should take home.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump could remain on Colorado's Republican primary ballot, barring states from disqualifying candidates for federal office under a constitutional provision involving insurrection and reversing Colorado's exclusion of him from its ballot.


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