We now have arguably the most important 14th Amendment ruling about Donald Trump to date. Friday’s decision from Colorado isn't entirely convincing, but its most useful feature may be that it lays the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace found in her lengthy opinion that Trump engaged in insurrection. That might lead one to think that Trump is therefore barred from the presidency under the Constitution’s insurrection clause. But Wallace also said the president isn’t an “officer” under the provision in question, so, according to the Colorado state judge, Trump isn’t banned from the presidency despite his otherwise unconstitutional behavior. My colleague Hayes Brown explained why it’s a dubious distinction on Wallace’s part.
But the state trial judge won’t have the last word. Importantly, unlike other courts that have punted on the subject recently, Wallace issued an actual ruling, based on facts and evidence, even if her conclusion is wanting. On that note, the Colorado challengers are attacking the “officer” distinction on appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. If they’re successful in doing so — leading to a ruling that Trump is ineligible — then the U.S. Supreme Court will more likely step in to make a definitive, nationwide ruling.
The U.S. justices have discretion over their docket, but they’ll be more likely to review a decision that keeps Trump off the ballot; if a lower federal court or state high court says he can stay on the ballot, then the justices can maintain the status quo by simply rejecting any appeals of such decisions and declining to get involved.
But if the Colorado Supreme Court endorses her insurrection finding yet disagrees with her “officer” rationale on legal grounds, then Wallace’s decision may have been the first step in the issue’s judicial resolution.
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