A Colorado judge ruled on Friday that former President Donald J. Trump could remain on the ballot in the state, rejecting the argument that the 14th Amendment prevents him from holding office again.
It was the first time a court had ruled on the merits of whether Mr. Trump, with his actions before and during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, had engaged in insurrection against the Constitution after taking an oath to support it — an offense deemed disqualifying by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 to keep former Confederates out of the government.
The twist was that Sarah B. Wallace, the Denver district court judge overseeing the case, ruled that Mr. Trump did engage in insurrection — but that Section 3 did not apply to him.
Because the clause does not explicitly name the presidency, the question hinged on whether the president was included in the category “officer of the United States.”
Because of “the absence of the president from the list of positions to which the amendment applies combined with the fact that Section Three specifies that the disqualifying oath is one to ‘support’ the Constitution whereas the presidential oath is to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution,” Judge Wallace wrote, “it appears to the court that for whatever reason the drafters of Section Three did not intend to include a person who had only taken the presidential oath.”
Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and New Hampshire were dismissed on procedural grounds, and a judge in Michigan ruled that the questions were political ones that courts did not have the authority to decide.
The plaintiffs in Colorado — four Republicans and two independent voters who sued in September — are expected to appeal, and the United States Supreme Court will almost certainly have the final say. Cases are also underway in other states.
The decision by Judge Wallace followed a weeklong trial in which lawyers for the plaintiffs laid out the case for disqualification in detail.
They called eight witnesses, including two police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 attack; a Democratic congressman who was in the Capitol during it; and the chief investigative counsel for the House’s Jan. 6 investigative committee, whose report the plaintiffs cited extensively. But the centerpiece of their case was the testimony of two professors.
Peter Simi, an expert on political extremism, testified that far-right groups routinely relied on implicit, plausibly deniable calls for violence, and that Mr. Trump had communicated with them in that way — an argument presented to rebut the defense that he never explicitly told anyone to storm the Capitol. And Gerard Magliocca, an expert on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, testified that at the time it was ratified, “engaging in insurrection” had been understood to include verbal incitement of force to prevent the execution of the law.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers called one expert, Robert Delahunty, a law professor who testified that Section 3 was vague and that it should be up to Congress to define it. Their other witnesses included a former Defense Department official who said Mr. Trump had pre-emptively authorized the use of National Guard troops to prevent violence on Jan. 6 — followed by people who were at Mr. Trump’s rally on the Ellipse that day, who testified that they had not heard his words as a call to violence and that the crowd had been peaceful before part of it turned violent.
Judge Wallace’s inquiries during the trial betrayed little of her thinking. When she rejected a request from Mr. Trump’s team to throw out the case before the trial was complete, she emphasized that the legal and constitutional questions it posed were novel and difficult.
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