Former President Donald Trump has filed an appeal against Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ decision to remove him from the 2024 Republican primary ballot. The 11-page appeal filed on January 2 to the Maine Superior Court covers why Trump’s legal team believes Ms. Bellows’ decree should be vacated and, more notably, his argument as to why the 14th Amendment of the Constitution does not apply.
Both the Maine case and a Colorado Supreme Court ruling rely upon the 14th Amendment to disqualify Trump from the ballot in their respective states. As the issue is almost certain to work its way up the court hierarchy, whatever arguments the GOP frontrunner makes now will almost certainly be decided by the US Supreme Court. Thus, the filing offers a unique window into the case that will perhaps give a preview of what is to come.
Here’s the Issue…
The Team Trump filing makes four essential claims:
(1) the Secretary was a biased decision maker who should have recused herself and otherwise failed to provide lawful due process;
(2) the Secretary had no legal authority under 21-A M.R.S. §§ 336 or 337 or any other Maine statute to consider the federal constitutional issues presented by the Challengers;
(3) the Secretary made multiple errors of law and acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner; and
(4) President Trump will be illegally excluded from the ballot as a result of the Secretary’s actions.
Accusations of bias were addressed in the initial decision by Ms. Bellows, who wrote that she had “determined that I could preside over this matter impartially and without bias. My decision is based exclusively on the record before me, and it has in no way been influenced by my political affiliation or personal views about the events of January 6, 2021.”
Previously, the secretary had demonstrated her anti-Trump stance publicly on social media and made clear that she thought his Senate acquittal over Jan. 6 was a miscarriage of justice.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung argued that her bias was blatant, saying, “Make no mistake, the Secretary is a partisan Democrat and former ACLU executive who has decided to abuse the authority of her office to help her preferred candidate …”
But what of the suggestion that Bellows made “multiple errors of law”?
This question hinges on the meaning of the 14th Amendment, a post-Civil War measure used by Bellows to justify her decision. As Liberty Nation reported: “Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prohibits anyone from holding office in the United States if they previously swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and then later ‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion’ against the Constitution … Today, the issues for courts considering these cases are whether Trump was an insurrectionist and if the President of the United States is included in who is covered by the Amendment as an ‘officer of the United States.'”
Does It Apply?
As well as disputing whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to the president of the United States, Trump’s team makes the case that the secretary of state does not have the authority to remove the former president from the ballot under Maine state law governing ballot access. This contention rests on the idea that the “insurrection” clause is not covered under the eligibility rules that govern the secretary of state’s conduct and that only “false statements” and issues with party designation and residence are covered.
The filing goes on to say that “even if Maine law authorized the Secretary to consider challenges to President Trump’s candidacy under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment (which it did not), The Secretary could not properly have considered Section Three and erred as a matter of law in doing so.” It states that:
- Disqualification of a presidential candidate under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment presents a political question reserved for the Electoral College and Congress;
- Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment is not self-executing and requires congressional legislation—of which there presently is none—to give it effect,
- Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment bars persons otherwise subject to its disqualification from holding specified offices, not from running for them from being elected to them.
- Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to President Trump because he has never served as an “officer of the United States,” and has never taken an “oath to support the Constitution”;
- Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to bar candidates from the presidency because that position is not an “office under the United States”;
- President Trump did not “engage” in “insurrection”; and
- As evidence of President Trump’s conduct, the Secretary relied entirely on President Trump’s public speeches. These speeches did not incite insurrection, and therefore President Trump’s political speech was protected by the First Amendment.
The filing closes with four precise demands that include vacating the initial ruling, declaring that the secretary of state lacks the authority to begin any other proceedings under the 14th Amendment against the former president, that Trump be put back on the ballot (although he has not as yet been removed), and that the court grant the petitioner any other ”just” and “equitable” relief. While combined these may seem like a big ask, in fact all they really do is roll back the status quo to what it was before Ms. Bellows unilaterally made the decision to strike 45 from the primary ballot in her state.
The decision on Trump’s appeal will be made in the Kennebec County Superior Court. An agreement between Trump’s legal team and Secretary Bellows has been made to present oral arguments (“at the court’s discretion”) on January 16. Should the former president not persuade the court on that date, the next stop will be Maine’s Supreme Court and, finally, Washington, DC.