Political Speech

Can Michigan Activists Keep Trump Off the Ballot? A Judge Is Hearing Arguments

Former U.S. President Donald Trump campaigns in Derry, New Hampshire
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Derry, New Hampshire, Oct. 23, 2023. (Reuters/Amanda Sabga)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A judge in Michigan is hearing arguments Thursday on whether Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has the authority to keep Donald Trump’s name off state ballots for president.

Activists are suing Benson in the Michigan Court of Claims to force her to keep Trump’s name off ballots and to assess Trump’s constitutional qualifications to serve a second term as president.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the former president are demanding that Trump’s name be allowed on the 2024 Republican presidential primary ballot.

Arguments began Thursday morning in Grand Rapids before Judge James Robert Redford told an activist in one case, an attorney representing Benson’s office and lawyers representing Trump that “whatever happens in these cases … it will happen relatively quickly.”

“It won’t happen today or this afternoon,” Redford added. “I’m not ruling from the bench.”

Redford alluded to expecting some type of appeal.

“I fully recognize I am not the last word on whatever happens in this case,” he said.

Activists in two separate suits point to a section of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment that prohibits a person from running for federal office if they have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. or given aid or comfort to those who have.

Liberal groups also have filed lawsuits in Colorado and Minnesota to bar Trump from the ballot, portraying him as the inciter of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was intended to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.

The groups cite a rarely used constitutional prohibition against holding office for those who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution but then “engaged in insurrection” against it. The two-sentence clause in the 14th Amendment has been used only a handful of times since the years after the Civil War.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit citing the provision. The court’s ruling said its decision applied only to the state’s primary.

Free Speech For People, a group representing petitioners before the Minnesota Supreme Court, also represents petitioners in one of the Michigan cases against Benson.

Trump is considered the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Benson has already said in a filing that Michigan’s Legislature does not give her the authority to determine whether a candidate for president may be disqualified for the state ballot under the 14th Amendment or to assess a candidate’s constitutional qualifications to serve as president.

It’s a “federal constitutional question of enormous consequence” whether Trump cannot appear as a presidential candidate on state ballots, Benson wrote. “Michigan courts have held that administrative agencies generally do not have the power to determine constitutional questions.”

However, she said that she will follow the direction of the court either way.