Trump Stays on Maine Ballot as He Challenges Disqualification Ruling in Court

The former president has appealed the Maine secretary of state’s decision to remove him from the ballot.
Trump Stays on Maine Ballot as He Challenges Disqualification Ruling in Court
Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Hyatt Hotel in Coralville, Iowa, on Dec. 13, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Catherine Yang

Former President Donald Trump challenged the Maine secretary of state’s decision to disqualify him from the state’s primary ballot, appealing on Jan. 2 to the Maine Superior Court.

He made several arguments, including that Maine Secretary of State Shanna Bellows was biased and should have recused herself, that she had no authority to remove him from the ballot or adjudicate the issue, and that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to presidents.
“The Secretary made multiple errors of law and acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner ... and President Trump will be illegally excluded from the ballot as a result of the Secretary’s actions,” attorneys for President Trump wrote.

The Kennebec Superior Court has until Jan. 17 to make a ruling.

With the appeal, President Trump will stay on the Maine ballot despite the secretary’s decision until a court rules otherwise.

Any Superior Court ruling is expected to be appealed at the Maine Supreme Court before likely heading to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. A similar disqualification case from Colorado has been appealed to the nation’s high court. If the Supreme Court takes up that case and rules in a way that applies to all states, it will affect Trump’s legal proceedings in Maine.

Disqualifications in 2 States

On Dec. 28, Maine became the second state to find President Trump ineligible to appear on the upcoming primary ballot.

Challenges to the GOP front runner’s eligibility as a candidate under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment have been litigated across the country for months, though most other jurisdictions have dismissed such challenges on various grounds.

The 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship and equal rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, included a third section meant to prevent officers who abandoned their posts to join the Confederacy from returning to office.

It stipulates that those who had taken an oath of office and subsequently joined an “insurrection” or “rebellions” or aided such enemies cannot hold office without two-thirds approval from Congress.

In the wake of Jan. 6, 2021, activists began circulating the novel legal theory that this applies to President Trump.

Experts opined on the merits and deficits of the theory as it caught on this summer, but in the wake of two disqualifications—in Colorado, then Maine—the rulings have been panned on both sides of the political aisle as a partisan ploy to circumvent the voting process. Both disqualifications are being appealed.
Maine Secretary of State Shanna Bellows’ ruling did not remove President Trump from the ballot immediately, instead staying the removal for five days expecting an appeal to the Superior Court.

“I will suspend the effect of my decision until the Superior Court rules on any appeal,” she wrote. If President Trump had not appealed the decision within the standard five-day period, the removal would have gone into effect.

Rulings Based on Jan. 6 Report

The Maine decision came after three separate challenges were brought to the secretary’s office.

She held an hours-long public hearing on Dec. 15 that covered the issue of insurrection and later allowed for parties to file supplemental briefings after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled President Trump ineligible.

The Colorado court had stayed its own Dec. 19 ruling pending an appeal, which the Colorado GOP, an intervenor in the case same as President Trump, filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Maine petitioners were local voters who mirrored the arguments used in the original Colorado case largely modeled on the controversial January 6 Select Committee report.

Attorneys for President Trump were unsuccessful in arguing that the report was biased and should not be entered into evidence in both venues.

Ms. Bellows found the report credible, as congressional reports are generally admissible as evidence.

She also rejected the argument that the one-day hearing and supplemental briefings were not enough to make a ruling on insurrection. The proceedings were conducted as required by state law, she said, further noting that Maine requires the secretary to adjudicate qualification challenges.

“Complexity is not a limitation on my authority ... These statutes do not suggest that I am restricted to straightforward questions of law or fact,” she wrote.

“Nor do I have the discretion to decline to rule in ballot qualification cases simply because they present difficult issues.”

While some other state secretaries and courts have declined to rule on the issue citing “chaos” that could arise from 50 different states with varied ballot listings, Ms. Bellows pointed out that this is already the case because New Hampshire will not primary President Joe Biden while other states will.

The question of which venue has the authority to adjudicate disqualification under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment remains an open question.

Some judges question whether the framers intended for the states to individually define “insurrection” in a post-war context, while others point to the fact that states took Section 3 as self-executing immediately after the Civil War.