Justice Neil Gorsuch will be a critical in the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations on Trump being on presidential ballots!

Justice Neil Gorsuch

Dear Commons Community,

As the legal battles over whether Donald Trump is eligible to appear on 2024 ballots moves toward the Supreme Court, one justice in particular is being singled out by the former president’s critics: his first nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, cited Gorsuch in her decision Thursday that Trump is ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. When the Colorado Supreme Court made a similar decision earlier this month, the Colorado justices also quoted Gorsuch. As reported by USA Today.

Trump’s opponents have zeroed in on an  opinion Gorsuch wrote in 2012 when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit – nearly five years before Trump named him to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The case dealt with a presidential candidate who was struck from Colorado’s ballot because he was not, as the Constitution requires, a “natural born citizen.”

“As then-Judge Gorsuch recognized,” the majority in the Colorado Supreme Court decision wrote, citing a line from the 2012 opinion. In Maine, “as now Justice Gorsuch observed,” Shenna Bellows wrote in her decision, before quoting the same line.

Why Trump’s critics are citing Gorsuch

Many experts predict the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve the ballot cases on limited grounds, avoiding central questions about whether Trump took part in an insurrection. Even if that’s true, quoting from one of the nine justices on the high court is a well-established tactic for advocates trying to build a five-vote majority.

Writing for a three-judge panel in 2012, Gorsuch dismissed the idea that Colorado was required to place Abdul Karim Hassan’s name on the presidential ballot even if he was ineligible to assume the presidency. A state’s “legitimate interest in protecting the integrity and practical functioning of the political process,” Gorsuch wrote, “permits it to exclude from the ballot candidates who are constitutionally prohibited from assuming office.”

What Gorsuch was saying, in other words, is states are empowered to assess a candidate’s eligibility for an office and strike them from the ballot if they don’t meet the criteria for holding office. The question raised in the Hassan case is just one part of the legal fight over Trump’s eligibility playing out in courts across the country today.

Colorado’s top court and Maine’s secretary of state both found Trump ineligible to serve under a Reconstruction-era provision of the 14th Amendment. That provision bars people who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then took part in an insurrection from serving again.

Both paused the practical impact of their decisions until courts have a chance to review them. In Colorado, for instance, the state court said election officials should proceed as if Trump’s name will appear on the ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the matter.

Who decides what’s an insurrection?

The 4-3 majority of Colorado justices also noted a decision from a federal court that upheld California denying a place on the ballot for a 27-year-old presidential candidate because he was several years shy of meeting the Constitution’s 35-years-old age requirement. And they pointed to a decision by a federal court in Illinois that barred a 31-year-old from the presidential ballot.

Trump’s supporters counter that deciding whether a candidate took part in an insurrection is far more complicated – more of a judgement call – than determining whether they are natural-born citizen or meet the Constitution’s age requirement. That is a decision that ultimately should be left to Congress, they said, not election officials or even state courts.

The Colorado Republican Party has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and has asked for expedited review. Trump is expected to do so next week. If the nation’s top court agrees to hear the case, it could wind up resolving more than a dozen similar pending lawsuits across the country.

Justice Gorsuch and the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations in this case will be followed closely!


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