Groups seek to keep Trump off 2024 ballot due to insurrection
Galvin balks, says former president needs to be convicted first
AMID A NATIONAL progressive campaign to keep former president Donald Trump off the 2024 ballot, should he choose to run again, Massachusetts’s top elections official says it’s not so simple – and the issue is in the US Department of Justice’s hands.
The core of the discussion is the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which says no person shall hold office in the United States who took an oath to support the Constitution, then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [Constitution].” The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 amid Reconstruction after the Civil War. That section was intended to prevent Confederate leaders from regaining political power.
The Newton-based Free Speech for People and Our Revolution, which is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s group, launched a campaign asking election officials in each state to keep Trump off the primary ballot because of his involvement in the January 6 Capitol riots.
“Thankfully, insurrections against the United States are quite rare, and even rarer for an insurrection against the US to have been fomented or led by high officials who took an oath to support the Constitution,” said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People, in an interview. “But January 6, 2021, crossed that threshold. And the evidence has been out for awhile, but continues to be further emerging, in some of the details about how former President Trump met the legal standard for engaging in that insurrection.”
“There is no constitutional requirement that Congress, a court, or anyone else formally adjudicate this question before you may decide his eligibility for the ballot,” the letter says. The groups say it is no different from excluding a presidential candidate who is underage or foreign born.
Fein said there is a legal standard that would qualify the January 6 riots as an insurrection, and the question is whether Trump engaged in the insurrection – which, Fein argues, the Republican then-president’s incendiary speech did. “As the framers of the Constitution foresaw, anyone who would do this is a danger to the republic,” Fein said. “Donald Trump should not be allowed anywhere near public office again because the fact that he did this already indicates that the danger of him doing even worse in the future is a far greater risk than our country can tolerate.”
But Galvin, a Democrat, says Fein’s interpretation is incorrect. Galvin agrees the law could potentially apply to Trump based on evidence that has emerged about Trump’s role in the January 6 riots. But Galvin said the statute that defines an insurrection is in the criminal code, and to become ineligible for office on that basis requires a criminal conviction.
“You just can’t say ‘he must have done it,’” Galvin said. “I think it’s certainly deserving of review given the information that’s been created and presented so far. But it requires the Justice Department to begin and conclude a criminal investigation.”
Galvin said if the Department of Justice files criminal charges and Trump is convicted for participating in an insurrection, Trump could likely be disqualified from the ballot. Without that, Galvin said, he lacks authority to keep Trump off. Galvin said he would like to see the Justice Department review the issue and, if prosecutors bring charges, “do it sooner rather than later,” before a presidential campaign.
Free Speech for People has filed similar cases seeking to keep Republican members of Congress involved in the January 6 riots off the ballot, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, and Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar. All the suits have either been dismissed by judges, or in Cawthorn’s case became moot after he lost his primary.University of Massachusetts Amherst political science professor Ray La Raja said he thinks it would be difficult to prove Trump engaged in insurrection. “The First Amendment gives people a lot of protections to protest, to speak out,” La Raja said. “Courts are going to be pretty hesitant to say where that crosses the line into an insurrection unless it’s clearly violent or provoking violence.” He said there will also be the question of who has authority to keep Trump off a ballot.
Correction: The status of Cawthorn’s case was corrected.