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A legal watchdog has filed a lawsuit to remove Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot in 2024, arguing that the former president disqualified himself from public office by violating the US Constitution on January 6 2021.
The suit advances a once-fringe legal argument that could fast become a lightning rod in the 2024 presidential election. Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner in a crowded field of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination for the White House, even as he faces 91 criminal charges across four separate criminal cases.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) on behalf of six voters in Colorado, cites section 3 of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, which bars any person from holding federal or state office who took an “oath . . . to support the Constitution of the United States” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof”.
The watchdog argued that given Trump’s role in the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol, the former president is not eligible for another four years in the White House.
Crew is not the first group to cite the 14th amendment as evidence that Trump should not be on the ballot. But its lawsuit in Colorado raises the possibility that similar cases could be filed in other US states, setting the stage for possible conflicting decisions that could elevate the issue to the Supreme Court to decide.
Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson highlighted the 14th amendment argument in the first Republican presidential debate last month in Milwaukee, saying “conservative legal scholars” were saying Trump “may be disqualified” from running under the Constitution — an apparent reference to a paper published earlier in the summer by two conservative law professors in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
But the theory is so far largely untested in the courts, and not without its critics.
Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia who resisted Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, on Wednesday rejected the 14th amendment argument, calling it the “newest way of attempting to short-circuit the ballot box”.
“A process that denies voters their chance to be the deciding factor in the nomination and election process would erode the belief in our uniquely American representative democracy,” Raffensperger wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
Trump has repeatedly said he is the victim of a political “witch hunt” and claimed he is being unfairly targeted as the chief political opponent to President Joe Biden.
In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk radio host, on Wednesday, Trump accused Democratic prosecutors of trying to keep him “out” of the race, saying: “They don’t want me running.”
He said he would be “asking for many dismissals of these many fake cases”, but added that if they were to go trial, he would testify in his own defence, saying: “I look forward to testifying.”
The White House has largely shied away from commenting on Trump’s mounting legal woes. But vice-president Kamala Harris broke with Biden on Wednesday, telling the Associated Press Trump should be held accountable for his actions on January 6.
“I spent the majority of my career as a prosecutor . . . I believe that people should be held accountable under the law. And when they break the law, there should be accountability,” she said.
Asked about Harris’s comments, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said: “She was affirming her belief in our [legal] system.”
Two of Trump’s four criminal trials stem from federal investigations led by special counsel Jack Smith. One case relates to the former president’s handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort, among other locations.
A court filing on Wednesday revealed that an IT worker at Mar-a-Lago had struck a deal with the special counsel’s office. According to the filing, the worker will testify in the classified documents case in exchange for not being prosecuted.
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