Former President Donald J. Trump is ineligible to hold office again, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, accepting the argument that the 14th Amendment disqualifies him in an explosive decision that could upend the 2024 election.
In a lengthy ruling ordering the Colorado secretary of state to exclude Mr. Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot, the justices reversed a Denver district judge’s finding last month that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — which disqualifies people who have engaged in insurrection against the Constitution after having taken an oath to support it from holding office — did not apply to the presidency.
They affirmed the district judge’s other key conclusions: that Mr. Trump’s actions before and on Jan. 6, 2021, constituted engaging in insurrection, and that courts had the authority to enforce Section 3 against a person whom Congress had not specifically designated.
“A majority of the court holds that President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of president under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court wrote in a 4-to-3 ruling. “Because he is disqualified, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Colorado Secretary of State to list him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot.”
“We do not reach these conclusions lightly,” the majority wrote. “We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us. We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”
Mr. Trump will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, his campaign said in a statement.
Tuesday’s ruling applies only to Colorado, but if the Supreme Court were to affirm it, he could be disqualified more broadly. The Colorado Supreme Court stayed its ruling until Jan. 4, 2024, to allow time for Mr. Trump to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If he does, the ruling could be stayed for longer while proceedings unfold.
The Colorado Supreme Court is the first court to find that the disqualification clause applies to Mr. Trump, an argument his opponents have been making across the country. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and New Hampshire were dismissed on procedural grounds. A judge in Michigan ruled last month that the issue was political and not for him to decide, and an appeals court affirmed the decision not to disqualify him. The plaintiffs there have appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Tuesday’s ruling “is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement. His organization represented the voters seeking to disqualify Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump’s campaign denounced the ruling.
“Unsurprisingly, the all-Democrat appointed Colorado Supreme Court has ruled against President Trump, supporting a Soros-funded, left-wing group’s scheme to interfere in an election on behalf of Crooked Joe Biden by removing President Trump’s name from the ballot and eliminating the rights of Colorado voters to vote for the candidate of their choice,” a campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, said. “We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these un-American lawsuits.”
The case hinged on several questions: Was it an insurrection when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election? If so, did Mr. Trump engage in that insurrection through his messages to his supporters beforehand, his speech that morning and his Twitter posts during the attack? Do courts have the authority to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment without congressional action? And does Section 3 apply to the presidency?
Judge Sarah B. Wallace, who made the district court ruling in Colorado, had said yes to all but the last question.
Because Section 3 enumerates several offices but not the presidency, and because the presidential oath is worded differently from the oaths of the enumerated offices, Judge Wallace concluded that the broad phrase “officers of the United States” was not intended to include the presidency. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed.
“We do not place the same weight the district court did on the fact that the presidency is not specifically mentioned in Section Three,” the justices wrote. “It seems most likely that the presidency is not specifically included because it is so evidently an ‘office.’”