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The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

A Legal Look At Trump’s Removal from Maine Ballot

A Legal Look At Trump’s Removal from Maine Ballot
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While we were all on our winter break, Maine was thrust into the center of a national political debate. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, following Colorado’s lead, removed former President Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot under 14th Amendment justifications. Upon appeals by lawyers for the former president, Bellows’ decision has currently been put on hold by Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy until the Supreme Court makes a judgment on a similar case from Colorado, which is scheduled to be heard early next month. The Secretary of State has appealed the Superior Court’s judgment to Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, the highest state court in Maine, but they are not expected to side with Bellows in this matter. 

To understand exactly why it has become contentious for Trump to be on Maine’s primary ballot, we need to go back to the powers of the Secretary of State in Maine, and the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Trump has faced a plethora of cases on a wide range of matters from fraud to election subversion in both federal and state courts across the country–involvement in court is not a new phenomenon for the former president. This particular case, however, stems from an interpretation of the text of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “No person…” shall be eligible for any elected office in the federal or state government, including the presidency, if they have “engaged in insurrection” against the United States. This amendment was added to the Constitution in 1888 after the Civil War by the “Radical Republicans,” strong supporters of Reconstruction, to prevent former Confederates from holding elected office. 

The amendment had seldom been used since, as there had not been a real attempt to overthrow the government until Jan. 6, 2021. On that day, a group of Trump supporters, believing his false claims of massive voter fraud and a rigged election, attempted to stop the certification of the 2020 election for President Joe Biden by storming the Capitol building. In the aftermath of this, the House of Representatives impeached Trump under the charge of “incitement of insurrection,” although the Senate acquitted him, repeating the impeachment proceedings that had been leveled against Trump years prior regarding Ukraine.

In Maine, a group of citizens, including prominent politicians like the former mayor of Portland, challenged Trump’s eligibility for Maine’s Republican primary ballot on the grounds of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, stating that Trump had supported an insurrection against the US. The Maine Secretary of State, who has the power to remove someone from the ballot, under an interpretation section 336 of Maine constitution, heard and accepted this challenge, removing Trump from the primary ballot—a late Christmas present for those not big fans of the former president. However, by doing so, she has landed the state and herself in uncharted waters, resulting in intense contention surrounding her decision.

From a legal standpoint, there are multiple interpretations of whether Trump had committed insurrection and can be removed from the ballot. From a moral standpoint, I believe, removing Trump from the ballot is a necessity. I think that he is a danger to the democratic fabric of this nation and to the great state of Maine. I believe that regardless of your politics, his actions before, after, and during Jan. 6, 2021, show as much. However, the question being asked here is whether, from a constitutional and legal perspective, Trump can be removed from the ballot.

Trump was acquitted by the Senate and faces many charges and has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of election interference. However he has not been charged or convicted of the specific act of insurrection by any court of law, with exception of the Colorado Supreme Court in an non-jury trial. Thus, one could argue that the Secretary of State, who is not part of the state’s judicial branch, was being presumptuous in her decision to remove the former president from the primary ballot in Maine. I would argue, from a legal perspective, we should examine the merits of this case from three perspectives: textualist, structuralist, and teleological.Textualists are concerned with the words of the Constitution divorced from their historical context within the document context. The relevant sections of text at hand are, “No person shall… hold any office, civil or military, under the United States… who, having previously taken an oath… as an officer of the United States… executive or judicial officers of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” That Trump is seeking a federal office is indisputable; however, the question of whether or not the president can be considered to be an “officer of the United States” who took an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States” is more controversial. This is because if he committed insurrection, he would be barred from the presidency. However, textualism cannot resolve this because from the text itself, it is inconclusive whether or not a president would have been an “officer of the United States,” unlike for state level where more clarity is given for who is responsible, “executive or judicial officers,” for uploading the oath. 

Through structuralism, which examines the basic structure of the US Constitution and some context and historical precedent, we can derive that “officer of the United States” likely includes the US president, which is a reasonable inference from the President’s duty as “Commander in Chief” as stated elsewhere in the Constitution (Article II, Section 2). However, as Trump has not been convicted of insurrection, it is unclear if being “engaged in insurrection” against the US is a different, possibly lower, burden to fulfill. 

This brings us to the teleological arguments, which argue from the spirit of the law, and can be highly subjective. In this specific case, I would argue that Trump does meet the burden of proof of having “engaged in insurrection” against the US, due to historical precedents, like Kenneth H. Worthy: Worthy v. Barrett, 63 N.C. 199 (1869) and others, and the unique position of Trump as president supporting those who would attack the rule of law. One could argue any way you look at the constitution from a strictly legal perspective it is clear Trump should be barred from the Ballot. This can be seen in the fact that it is not just liberals who want him removed, there are even some members of the conservative Federalist Society, which taking a more originalist reading of 14th amendment and constitution have come to the conclusion that Trump must be removed from the ballot.

So while a legal perspective may direct us to disqualify Trump from the ballot, under the 14th Amendment, this could create serious political concerns about the general health and stability of our republic. Trump, for better or worse, does have a lot of support, including right here in Maine where he won the congressional district Bates is in both in 2016 and 2020. Removing him from the ballot is likely to be seen as undemocratic by his supporters, and may inflame their anger, and at worst lead to violence. Hence, it should be asked what we as a society should prioritize more—the strength of laws and the constitutional republic, our very democratic instinct, or fear of retribution from a demagogue and his supporters. Whatever the case, it is not up to me or you; the Supreme Court is considering a similar case, and as it makes its decision, whatever it may be, will forever change the history of our proud but anxious republic.

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    Dan BakerFeb 9, 2024 at 5:37 PM

    Democrats are the insurrectionists. Our own Shenna Bellows is one. She and other Secretaries of State in Democrat run states illegally changed election rules in 2020 which allowed for thousands of illegitimate votes being cast.

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  • S

    steve dosh '78Feb 6, 2024 at 4:24 PM

    . 🐘. uh huh . Good analysis . Donald Trump claims to have won the last 2020 Presidential election . 😷. If so, in the US, you can not run for President more than twice . 🤙🏽 . ref: the 22nd amendment to our US Constitution . 🤷🏼‍♂️ . hth Ω . ✅. /s, Steve Dosh , former VP of the RA and a Bates Alum . posted 16:20 ME time 23 02 06 .💈. •

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