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Colorado Supreme Court bars Trump from the state's primary ballot

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. A notable decision has just come from the Colorado Supreme Court. There, the court has barred former President Trump from the state's primary ballot, citing a clause in the Constitution that disqualifies candidates from office who have engaged in insurrection. The Trump campaign has promised an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bente Birkeland of Colorado Public Radio has been covering this and joins us now. Hi, Bente.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: OK, so tell us exactly what the court ruled today.

BIRKELAND: This was a divided ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court. It was a 4-3 decision, and the justices concluded that Trump engaged in an insurrection with his words and actions around the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and concluded that, therefore, he cannot hold the nation's highest office again. And the justices did seem very aware of the gravity of this decision. They wrote that, quote, they "do not reach these conclusions lightly." And they said that, you know, they were in uncharted territory, essentially.

CHANG: OK.

BIRKELAND: And the ruling does - yeah. So, you know, we've never seen anything like this in the country's history.

CHANG: And what's been the response so far of the Trump campaign to all of this?

BIRKELAND: Well, the Trump campaign said that this is a completely flawed decision and that they will swiftly file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and a request for a stay of, quote, "this deeply undemocratic decision." And Trump's campaign said that they have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in their favor and put an end to these un-American lawsuits.

CHANG: All right. Well, as we mentioned, a provision of the Constitution is at issue here. Can you tell us more about the part of the 14th Amendment that is being discussed?

BIRKELAND: So the 14th Amendment - this provision is a Civil - from the Civil War era. And it's only been used a handful of times. Section 3 - it bars those who've taken an oath to the U.S. Constitution and later rebelled against the government from holding elected office again. And the legal question here has been, first, whether Trump rebelled against government and engaged in an insurrection and then, secondly, whether this clause even applied to the office of the presidency. So a lower court decision in Denver said, yes, Trump engaged in insurrection, but that judge didn't think that this clause applied to the presidency. Now we have the Colorado Supreme Court saying, yes, it does apply to the office of the presidency.

CHANG: Well, this is not the only attempt within the court system to bar former President Trump from a state ballot. Can you just, Bente, put into context for us the other efforts to use the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from other ballots?

BIRKELAND: Most notably, we've seen cases in Michigan and Minnesota, and those were dismissed. They were similar complaints. In the case of Minnesota, the court said, essentially, the state didn't have the jurisdiction to make this decision, that state parties could decide who can go on the ballot even if the person is or is not qualified. And then in Michigan, the court said that the state didn't have the authority because it required implementing legislation from Congress. And the Colorado courts said no to both of those instances. It says, yes, the state has the authority in Colorado. And, no, we don't need implementing legislation at the federal level.

CHANG: OK, so what happens next in the legal proceedings? What do you expect?

BIRKELAND: If the highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court, does agree to hear this appeal and if it's still in process before Colorado has to certify its primary ballot - and that deadline is January 5. You know, if this is still in motion by January 5, the Colorado opinion says that Trump should be placed on the ballot awaiting for a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

CHANG: That is Bente Birkeland of Colorado Public Radio. Thank you so much for updating us today.

BIRKELAND: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.