Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, unilaterally ruled late Thursday, December 28, that former President Donald Trump was ineligible to appear on the ballot for the March 5 Republican presidential primary. Whereas the Colorado Supreme Court decision was arrived at by a 4-3 majority of judges, this decision has been taken solely within the confines of her appointed office.
Just as the Centennial State justices stayed their ruling to give time for an appeal – which has since been filed by the Colorado GOP – Bellows delayed the effect of her own ruling to give an actual court time to weigh in. Does this suggest that her actions are simply political potshots to undermine 45’s campaign? This is now the second state to bar Trump from the ballot, but while it can at least be argued that the Colorado decision is a fair ruling, even critics of the former president are balking at the idea of a single Democrat politician making the contentious move.
Bellows’ 34-page decision concludes that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and that, as secretary of state, it is within her remit to exclude him from the primary ballot based on the challenges brought before her. Notably, this was not a “court of law” proceeding as many would recognize it, but rather an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that grants the holder ultimate authority.
“I am not bound by either the federal or Maine rules of evidence because this is an APA proceeding,” Bellows wrote, clarifying that the evidence that could be presented would be entirely at her discretion. She explains:
“As an initial matter, Mr. Trump’s objections [to the evidence submitted] hinge largely on rules of evidence that do not govern this proceeding. The fact that a report includes hearsay, contains irrelevant facts, or lacks foundation does not automatically render it inadmissible under the APA.”
As such, as a basis for her determination, she opted to use the highly partisan report compiled by the Democrat-led US House committee that ran the second impeachment of the former president:
“I rule that that the January 6 Report meets this standard. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, government investigative reports, including reports of Congress, are presumed admissible, with the party challenging admissibility bearing the burden of showing the report is untrustworthy.”
Secretary Bellows fails to mention that Trump was already tried on the basis of this report and found not guilty by the US Senate.
Bias in Maine
Ms. Bellows was accused of bias by Trump’s legal team, an accusation she dismissed out of hand in her decision. “[A]fter he learned that I would preside over the hearing in this matter and shortly before issuance of my decision, Mr. Trump filed a Motion requesting that I disqualify myself due to alleged bias. That Motion is denied as untimely.” She goes on to say that even if Mr. Trump had followed her timetable for what is permitted, she would still have refused his request:
“Moreover, had the Motion been timely, I would have 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.”
But is she really an impartial official acting as an objective jurist?
In February 2021, she posted to her Twitter (now X) account that, “The Jan 6 insurrection was an unlawful attempt to overthrow the results of a free and fair election. Today 57 Senators including King & Collins found Trump guilty. That’s short of impeachment but nevertheless an indictment. The insurrectionists failed, and democracy prevailed.” She concluded, “Not saying not disappointed. He should have been impeached. But history will not treat him or those who voted against impeachment kindly.”
Let’s consider the optics for a moment. A former Democrat state senator, now secretary of state, with a history of bias on the insurrection question, and who was one of Joe Biden’s electoral college electors, has used a Democrat-created report to prove her own opinion in a proceeding in which she acted as judge, jury, and executioner. Regardless of the merits of her decision, the very idea that who the voters of Maine have to choose from is entirely within her purview has rankled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Somewhat ironically, Ms. Bellows was formerly a voting rights activist who worked for the ACLU.
The Maine Republican Party was vociferous in its response. “Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, once named the most progressive Senate candidate in America, unilaterally threw Donald Trump off the ballot,” the group said in a statement. It explained how it would respond to this ruling as it makes its way through the Maine court system:
“The Maine Republican Party has been fighting these backroom elites since they started their push to subvert democracy by tossing President Trump. Rest assured we’ll be fighting this in court – all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. And we reserve our right as a private organization to use a caucus system if that’s what it takes to keep a Democrat Hack Secretary of State from infringing on the Rights of Maine voters.”
With somewhat less spicy language, even Maine lawmakers balked at the decision. US Rep. Jared Golden (a Democrat who is no fan of The Donald) posted: “I voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection. I do not believe he should be re-elected President of the United States. However, we are a nation of laws, therefore until he is actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot.”
Notably, as per Mr. Golden’s point, Donald Trump has never been charged with insurrection, not even by special counsel Jack Smith.
In a similar vein, Senator Susan Collins (a Maine Republican), who was one of just seven GOP senators to vote for Trump’s impeachment, accused Bellows of overstepping her authority:
“Maine voters should decide who wins the election – not a Secretary of State chosen by the Legislature.
“The Secretary of State’s decision would deny thousands of Mainers the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice, and it should be overturned.”
The Rule of Unintended Consequences
First Colorado, now Maine, and at least 13 other states weighing the possibilities of removing Donald Trump from the primary ballots – not to mention how many schemes are in play to keep him out of the general election. While some partisans are cheering the news, others are treading far more carefully – especially Democrats.
Indeed, fighting all these battles is time-consuming for Trump, time that he would prefer to spend on the campaign trail; so there is without doubt damage being done. However, he has perhaps won a more important battle. When his political enemies – those who spend every spare media minute railing against him – are forced to defend his access to the ballot; when their time is dominated by having to support his right to be the candidate, it could make up for the harm done to his campaign.
In a defiant act of hubris – that she has herself already stayed in advance of it facing an actual court – Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has perhaps gifted Donald Trump a wellspring of political capital that money just cannot buy.