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Michigan Supreme Court rules to allow Trump on the state's 2024 ballot

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It appears efforts to keep former President Donald Trump off Michigan's Republican presidential primary ballot have failed. The Michigan Supreme Court issued an order today that backs up lower court rulings. Basically, the court decided it's too early to make that call, even though the state's presidential primary is just two months away. Michigan Public Radio's senior political correspondent Rick Pluta is here with more. Hi, Rick.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what the court ruled today.

PLUTA: OK, so the Michigan Supreme Court, which is the state's highest court, in an unsigned order, it refused to review lower court decisions. And those decisions said there's really no case to look at unless Trump becomes the Republican nominee. That is Republicans have to choose their nominee before the judicial branch gets involved.

SHAPIRO: And remind us why this is before the courts at all.

PLUTA: Sure. There are actually several cases like this around the country, and some Trump critics say he is not eligible to serve because he violated the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment. That clause was directed at Confederate rebels following the Civil War, but there are Democrats, independents and some Republicans who say Trump's involvement in January 6 puts him in the same category - insurrectionist. And they say that makes him ineligible to hold public office, including the presidency.

SHAPIRO: So the Michigan Supreme Court has said the question of whether Trump can run does not need to be resolved unless he is actually chosen by Republicans to be their nominee. What happens if they do choose him as the nominee?

PLUTA: Well, the people who want Trump off the primary ballot say they will be back in court to make the same case - that if Trump is nominated, he is still not eligible to be on Michigan's general election ballot because of the insurrection clause. This is their attorney, Mark Brewer.

MARK BREWER: We think the Supreme Court should have taken the case and decided on the merits, but this doesn't prevent us from bringing a lawsuit if Trump becomes the nominee and attempts to be on the Michigan general election ballot next year.

PLUTA: And I think it's fair to predict chaos, confusion, outrage if Michigan Republicans vote for Trump and then are told they need a do-over. State and local election officials will be reaching for heartburn relief. It's also possible that if courts punt again and Trump gets on the November ballot and wins, we could see the same challenge filed again.

SHAPIRO: And as we've said, Michigan is far from the only state where this is playing out. Just last week, Colorado's Supreme Court issued a decision going the other way, saying Trump cannot appear on their state's ballot. So what does this all mean, big picture?

PLUTA: Well, the Colorado decision is on hold while that's appealed, but we do now have court decisions from multiple states falling on both sides of the question. So this could be, and likely is, headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a resolution that covers the entire country. Here's Mark Brewer again.

BREWER: Ultimately, we need a uniform decision from the United States Supreme Court that applies in every state.

PLUTA: But that could also create a different set of problems. Like, what if some states have already started voting or printed ballots or already mailed out absentee ballots? What about states that have ballot deadlines already enshrined in state law? There's just more questions than answers.

SHAPIRO: That is Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta. Thanks for your reporting.

PLUTA: My pleasure. 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.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.