Maine Court Defers to Supreme Court on Trump Disqualification Ruling

Maine Court Defers to Supreme Court on Trump Disqualification Ruling

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Challenges have plagued election officials and the GOP frontrunner for several months, with some 60 petitions being filed across the country.

A Maine Superior Court stayed the state secretary’s decision to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the state primary ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, deferring to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Secretary is ordered to await the Supreme Court’s decision in [Trump v. Anderson], and no later than thirty days after Anderson’s issuance, to issue a new Ruling modifying, withdrawing, or confirming her prior ruling,” the Jan. 17 order reads.

The move was expected, as other courts have taken a similar route with a decision now pending in the Supreme Court. President Trump’s attorneys had likewise filed a motion to stay proceedings, citing the case before the high court.

“Legally speaking, a stay of an administrative ruling is a rare event in Maine, but the Court agrees that under these circumstances it is appropriate,” the order reads. It was noted that the state secretary could not have known that President Trump’s Supreme Court appeal would be heard when she issued her decision on Dec. 28, 2023.

Maine’s Republican primary will be held on March 5, and the state’s ballot is a ranked-choice one.

The court ordered that President Trump would remain on the ballot unless the Supreme Court found him “disqualified to hold the office of President” by March 5.

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However, a legal question President Trump and others have also raised before the Supreme Court is whether a disqualification from “holding” office can be treated the same as a disqualification from running for office, as Section 3 specifically includes a method of removing such a disqualification before taking office.

The court decision was largely administrative, and did not deal with the issue of insurrection. The order noted that the court was not “permitted to overturn an agency decision” unless the decision was found to be unconstitutional, beyond the agency’s authority, or was procedurally unlawful or an abuse of discretion, under the statute by which President Trump appealed, but did not weigh the lawfulness of the decision given the circumstances.

However, the court noted that all the questions raised in the Supreme Court regarding the application of Section 3 are “important—and purely legal—issues of federal law.”

The court did not opine on whether the state secretary acted within the bounds of her office either, writing that the Supreme Court decision could well answer that question too. The secretary had urged the court to issue a decision regarding President Trump’s eligibility, arguing that the Supreme Court appeal may only apply to qualification on Colorado’s ballots.

“It is likely—although admittedly, not certain—that [Trump v. Anderson] will resolve many questions raised in this appeal,” the order reads. “The Court does not share the Secretary’s confidence about the likelihood of the Supreme Court resolving Anderson only on Colorado-specific points of law.”

Nationwide Challenges

While most secretaries of state have declined to take an official position on President Trump’s eligibility under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, Maine Secretary of State Shanna Bellows argued in December that state law made it her duty to adjudicate issues of insurrection and decide whether to put President Trump on the ballot.

Such challenges—stemming from a Civil War-era statute—have plagued election officials and the GOP frontrunner candidate for the past several months, with some 60 petitions being filed across the country.

The Maine decision was the second to disqualify President Trump from the ballot, after the Colorado Supreme Court issued the unusual ruling to remove President Trump’s name from the Colorado ballot only if he did not appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Maine disqualification decision similarly kept President Trump on the ballot in the event of an appeal.

Most state and federal courts have dismissed these cases for a variety of reasons, including for standing or jurisdiction, and sometimes doubting the soundness of using state election statutes on procedure to judge whether Jan. 6, 2021, constituted an “insurrection.”

Others have more recently held off on rulings, pointing to an imminent Supreme Court answer that could settle these cases once and for all.

Officials, interest groups, and concerned citizens have urged the high court to settle the issue as well, with amici briefs being submitted in President Trump’s appeal near daily.

And with the 2024 primaries already underway, several more of these challenges could soon become moot.

Supreme Court Hearing Scheduled

On Jan. 3, attorneys for President Trump filed a petition with the Supreme Court, asking “Did the Colorado Supreme Court err in ordering President Trump excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot?”

They argued the Colorado Supreme Court ruling marks “the first time in the history of the United States that the judiciary has prevented voters from casting ballots for the leading major-party presidential candidate,” and an immediate review was warranted.

On Jan. 5, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, scheduling oral arguments for Feb. 8.

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