The continued existence of the campaign of former President Donald J. Trump 2024 is on trial this week in an unassuming Colorado courtroom.
The lawsuit stems from a lawsuit brought by voters in the state who argue that Mr. Trump is ineligible to hold office under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment because of his actions before and during the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. And the case of Colorado’s foreclosure is not an isolated one. Oral arguments arising from a similar case, in Minnesota, were held on Thursday.
Here’s a look at the Colorado case and beyond.
What is the history of the Colorado lawsuit?
It was filed in September in a state district court in Denver by six Colorado voters — four Republicans and two independents — who are suing with the help of the Washington watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
Those voters argue that Mr. Trump’s presence on the Republican primary ballot next year would hurt them by supporting their preferred candidates and, if he were to win the nomination, deny them the ability “to vote for a qualified candidate in the general election.” elections. .”
They are demanding that the Colorado secretary of state not print Mr. Trump’s name on the ballot and asking the court to rule that Mr. Trump is disqualified to end any “uncertainty.”
What is the 14th Amendment and what does it say?
The Colorado case specifically addresses Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or an elector for President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States or in any State, who, having previously taken the oath of office, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, in support of the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in rebellion or insurrection against the same, or aided or abetted the his enemies. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House remove this disability.
The central questions are whether the 14th amendment applies to the presidency. whether Mr. Trump’s conduct before and on Jan. 6 constitutes “rebellion or sedition against” the Constitution. and whether election officials or courts may rule a person ineligible under Section 3 without a specific act of Congress identifying that person.
Constitutional scholars have emphasized in interviews with the New York Times that the answers to these questions are not simple or self-evident.
In public writings, some scholars have argued that Mr. Trump is ineligible. In an academic paper, conservative law professors William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen concluded: “It is arguably fair to say that Trump is ‘involved’ in the January 6 uprising both by his actions and his inaction.” Others have argued otherwise, with law professors Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman saying in a recent draft that they see “no good basis” for the conclusions of Mr. Baude and Mr. Paulsen.
What does the plaintiffs side say?
From Monday through Friday, attorneys for the plaintiffs — the six Colorado voters — called eight witnesses:
Daniel Hodgesa police officer in Washington, DC and Winston Pidgeon, a Capitol Police officer, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They testified that the rioters had come equipped with tactical gear and had made it clear they believed they were acting on Mr Trump’s behalf. Under cross-examination, Mr. Trump’s lawyers sought to distance him from the rioters, noting that the officers could not have known that any individual rioter had heard his speech.
Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, who said lawmakers had read Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts during the attack and saw them as connected “to our own security in the chamber and also to the integrity of the proceedings.” During cross-examination, Mr. Trump’s lawyers cited Mr. Swalwell’s own Twitter post urging Democrats to “fight back” against abortion restrictions and asked whether that was a call for violence. Mr Swalwell said no.
William C. Banks, Syracuse University law professor and expert on presidential national security authority. He testified that Mr. Trump could have deployed National Guard troops without a request or permission from local officials.
Petros Simis, a sociology professor at Chapman University and an expert on political extremism. He testified that the far-right used “doublespeak” – language that insiders understood called for violence, but which maintained plausible deniability. For years, he said, Mr. Trump had built credibility with members of groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, so they saw him as an ally who spoke to them that way.
Gerard Maglioca, Indiana University law professor and expert on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. He said that when the amendment was ratified, “riot” was understood to refer to “any public use of violence or threat of violence by a group of people to obstruct or prevent the execution of law” and “engage” to mean “any voluntary act in furtherance of a sedition, including words of incitement’.
Hillary Rudy, deputy director of elections in the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. He testified that the secretary of state had a legal obligation to grant ballot access only to candidates who met the criteria, that the courts could play a legal role in determining qualifications, and that the office would comply with whatever the court decided.
Timothy J. Heaphy, the January 6 committee’s chief investigative counsel. He dismissed claims by witnesses on Mr Trump’s side that the team had doctored or suppressed evidence. During cross-examination, he referred to Mr Trump’s role in the attack on the Capitol on January 6 and said the former president’s remarks “incited violence” to “fight like hell or you’ll have no more country”.
What is Trump’s side saying?
As of Friday, Mr. Trump’s lawyers had called seven witnesses:
Kashyap Patel, former chief of staff at the Ministry of Defense. He testified that Mr. Trump had preemptively authorized the deployment of 10,000 to 20,000 National Guard troops to keep the peace on Jan. 6 and that they were absent because the mayor of Washington had not requested them. Under cross-examination, Mr. Patel said he was not aware of any document showing Mr. Trump’s authorization.
Katrina Pearson, a former spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, who described internal disputes over who should speak at Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. He testified that Mr. Trump kicked out most of the scheduled speakers, including the most inflammatory ones. He also said he had expressed a desire for 10,000 National Guard troops.
Amy Kramer, an organizer of the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse, called the rally participants “freedom-loving citizens” and “happy warriors” and said she had seen no signs of violence or violent intent while Mr. Trump spoke. On cross-examination, he acknowledged that he was within the area requiring magnetometer scans and that he would not have seen anything that occurred outside of that area.
Thomas Van Flynn, general counsel and chief of staff to Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona. He testified that the crowd at the rally was peaceful, but acknowledged that it had left before Mr. Trump spoke.
Tom Bjorklund, who is the treasurer of the Colorado Republican Party but testified in private, watched Mr. Trump’s speech and then went to the Capitol, where he saw the commotion but did not enter the building himself. In the first part of his testimony he said he had not seen any violence from Trump supporters. Later, he said he had watched people break windows, but promoted the conspiracy theory that it was a false flag operation by “antifa.” He also said he understood Mr Trump’s “instructions” were for peaceful protest.
Representative Ken BuckA Colorado Republican, he testified that he believed the panel’s Jan. 6 report — which the plaintiffs often cite as evidence in their case — was one-sided in its assessment of Mr. Trump’s “guilt” in the attack.
Robert J. Delahunty, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, testified as an expert in the interpretation of historical documents. He said the definition of “engaged in rebellion” was vague and that any “interference” with the federal government could be construed as rebellion. He argued that Congress should define the phrase. This prompted a question from Justice Wallace, who asked if he had any examples of when a court had left the Constitution to the interpretation of Congress. He did not do it.
What did the judge say?
Before the trial began on Monday, Mr. Trump’s team made several motions to have the case dismissed. Judge Sarah B. Wallace, who is overseeing the trial, dismissed them.
On Wednesday, after the plaintiffs had finished calling most of their witnesses, Mr. Trump’s lawyers asked for a “directed verdict” — a conclusion, before the defense called witnesses, that there was not a legally sufficient basis for the plaintiffs to prevail. They argued that even if the plaintiffs’ allegations were accepted as fact, that would not legally justify Mr. Trump’s disqualification. His words, they said, did not meet the Supreme Court’s standard for incitement and were therefore protected by the First Amendment.
Judge Wallace denied the request, but stressed that her denial should not be read as a ruling on the legal issues — including whether Mr. Trump had “engaged in sedition,” as the 14th Amendment meant that phrase, and whether the First Amendment limited how the 14th could be enforced.
Instead, he said he’s denying the request because to grant it, “I would have to decide a lot of legal issues that I’m just not willing to decide today.”
What happens next?
It is unclear how long it will take for Judge Wallace to rule after the trial ends on Friday.
However, the trial is conducted under a fast process with the goal of having a final resolution before the January deadline for Colorado’s secretary of state to certify who is on the primary ballot — and everyone involved understands that her initial decision must come with enough time for appeals to be resolved as well.
The United States Supreme Court is expected to have the final say.
Anjali Huynh, Chris Cameron and Alice McFadden contributed to the report.