A Michigan judge on Tuesday ruled that Donald Trump can stay on the ballot at least through the 2024 presidential primaries in the state, deciding a batch of three separate cases addressing the Constitution’s Disqualification Clause.
One suit was brought by non-profit Free Speech for People, and sought to have a judge find that the Constitution disqualified Trump for office. Trump then brought a suit of his own, asking the same judge to bar Michigan election officials from knocking him off the ballot.
A third suit, brought by serial litigant Robert Davis, also sought to disqualify Trump.
The result was, on balance, a victory for Trump. In all the cases, Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Robert Redford ruled that the question was a political one, not for the courts to decide. He did hand Trump a minor setback in ruling only on the primary ballot. He said the issue of the 2024 general election ballot was not yet ripe to decide.
In the Free Speech for People case, Judge Redford ruled that using the 14th Amendment to knock Trump off the ballot was a “political question” – a significant win for Trump, who has conveniently argued that Congress needs to act for the 14th Amendment to apply.
In the case brought by Trump, Judge Redford granted the former president’s request for a finding that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) lacks the authority to remove him from the ballot. But Redford denied a request for Trump to apply that finding to the 2024 general election, leaving the prospect for another round of litigation on this question to restart after the GOP formally nominates Trump next year.
The decision is the second blow in as many weeks to groups seeking to use the Constitution’s Disqualification Clause to bar Trump from appearing on ballots in 2024.
It sets up further court battles in Michigan. The non-profit group that brought the case said after the ruling that it would appeal the decision immediately.
Free Speech for People filed lawsuits in Michigan and Minnesota seeking evidentiary hearings to determine whether Trump’s attempt to stay in office after losing the election disqualified him, but now judges in both states have issued orders rejecting the group’s efforts at least as they applied to the GOP primary.
Michigan is the only swing state in which a serious challenge to Trump’s eligibility was filed. A Colorado district judge is currently weighing a similar challenge from non-profit CREW after an evidentiary hearing.
Redford is now the first judge in a significant 14th Amendment case to hand Trump a win on a key point: the judge concluded in two of the cases that deciding whether to bar Trump from running for having engaged in an insurrection is a “political question” beyond the scope of the courts.
Instead, Redford found that Congress would need to act in order to bar Trump from holding office – a victory for Trump, who argued in both Minnesota and Michigan that Section Three cannot apply to him absent further congressional action.
In a statement, Free Speech for People accused the court of having “adopted a discredited theory that claims that only Congress can decide whether a presidential candidate fails to meet constitutional qualifications for office.”
“The Michigan Supreme Court should reverse this badly-reasoned lower court decision,” Free Speech for People Legal Director Ron Fein said. “While our appeal is pending, the trial court’s decision isn’t binding on any other court, and we continue our current and planned legal actions in other states to enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment against Donald Trump.”
Redford repeated elements of his opinion across the three cases. In one repeated section, Judge Redford reiterated what he suggested throughout oral arguments last week: that, in his view, Section Three may only disqualify people from holding office, and not from running for office. He hit back at suggestions that allowing Trump to run, “and become the President-elect, prior to having Congress adjudicate whether he is disqualified under Section, would be far worse than what is presently occurring.”
Having Congress determine whether Trump is eligible post-election, Redford wrote, might be “unsettling,” but preferable to evidentiary hearings in each state.