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Trump optimistic after Supreme Court ballot hearing; justices wary of ruling on eligibility

People demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
People demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Former President Donald Trump was optimistic Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over his eligibility for the 2024 presidential ballot.

More than a month after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution disqualifies Trump from appearing on the ballot, the high court is taking the first steps toward an ultimate decision.

Trump on Thursday called it a "very beautiful process " when he spoke from his Mar-A-Lago home in Florida after the hearing.

"I listened today and I thought our arguments were very strong," Trump said. "I hope that democracy in this country will continue, because right now we have a very, very tough situation with all the radicalization of politics."

Norma Anderson, a 91-year-old Republican who co-petitioned for Trump's removal from the ballot in Colorado, said she, too, is confident following the hearing. Speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court, she said she trusts the high court will "do the right thing."

People demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
People demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"I've lived through a lot and been through a lot of presidents," Anderson said. "This is the first one that is trying to destroy the Constitution."

Krista Kafer, another petitioner, told reporters she voted for Trump in 2020 but was appalled by his actions that followed the election.

Norma Anderson, the 91-year-old lead plaintiff in a case to remove former President Donald Trump from Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Norma Anderson, the 91-year-old lead plaintiff in a case to remove former President Donald Trump from Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"I watched with horror on Jan. 6 as someone who took an oath to the Constitution would subvert that oath," Kafer said. "For two months, [Trump] pushed a false and dangerous narrative that fomented violence."

The question at the center of the case is whether Trump's actions leading up to and on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol should bar him from running for office again.

TV cameras line up outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday as oral arguments are heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
TV cameras line up outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday as oral arguments are heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Colorado rulings

Attorney Shannon Stevenson, representing Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, argued in support of how the Colorado court system handled the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether former President Donald Trump's actions related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack make him ineligible to run for president again. Photo by Tannen Maury/UPI
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether former President Donald Trump's actions related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack make him ineligible to run for president again. Photo by Tannen Maury/UPI

"This case was handled capably and efficiently by the Colorado courts under a process we've used to decide ballot challenges for over a century," Stevenson said.

Responding to a question from the court later, Stevenson said this disqualification of Trump is the same as any other disqualification, including barring a candidate because of age.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday over former President Donald Trump's eligibility to appear on the ballot. Trump has challenged a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court in December to bar him from the ballot in the state. File Photo by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/UPI
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday over former President Donald Trump's eligibility to appear on the ballot. Trump has challenged a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court in December to bar him from the ballot in the state. File Photo by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/UPI

Jason C. Murray, representing the six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters that challenged Trump's eligibility, argued that Section 3 has "remained dormant" for 155 years "because we haven't seen anything like this."

He added that this is not a reason to invoke the clause and uphold Trump's disqualification in Colorado.

Protesters held signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Protesters held signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Thursday as oral arguments were heard on whether former President Donald Trump can remain on Colorado's Republican Primary ballot for the 2024 election. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"The reason we're here is that President Trump tried to disenfranchise 80 million voters who voted against him," Murray said. "The Constitution doesn't require that we give him another chance."

Justice Elena Kagan expressed some concern about one state making a decision about a presidential election that impacts the entire country. Murray pushed back, saying states could still make their own determinations about ballot eligibility. But liberal and conservative justices were skeptical about the effects of their decision.

Attorney Jason Murray, who represents voters seeking to remove Trump from the ballot, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Attorney Jason Murray, who represents voters seeking to remove Trump from the ballot, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"The first-mover state, we're stuck with that record," Justice Amy Coney Barrett said. "It doesn't seem like a state call."

"Some states may allow insurrectionists to be on the ballot," Murray responded. "There are candidates who are on the ballot in some states even though they're not natural born citizens."

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Justice Clarence Thomas asked the first questions of Murray, interrupting him several times as he attempted to respond. This would also occur in back-and-forth dialog with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Trump's argument

Jonathan F. Mitchell, an attorney representing Trump, delivered his initial argument in less than five minutes, stating that Section 3 does not apply for two reasons. First, the president is not an officer of the United States "as the term is used throughout the Constitution." He said "officer" only applies to individuals who were appointed to their office.

Second, Mitchell argued that only Congress can deem a candidate ineligible for the ballot.

Much of Mitchell's argument hinged on citing a Virginia circuit court case called Griffin's case. In this case, Caesar Griffin, a convicted murderer, motioned for his conviction to be overturned because the judge should be disqualified from holding office for supporting the Confederacy.

Griffin's argument was rejected as the court ruled the decision to bar an insurrectionist from office should be left to Congress.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was skeptical of the validity of the decision in that case because it did not involve a president and was not a Supreme Court case. She noted that Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase, who delivered the opinion on the case then as a district court judge, later reversed course in the Supreme Court case U.S. vs. Jefferson Davis.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, disagreed. He said Griffin's case was important in outlining the "original meaning" of Section 3 as it relates to banning insurrectionists from office.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson seemed to agree with Mitchell's argument that Section 3 does not apply to the president. She asked Murray why the clause would be ambiguous about the president while it lists the other offices that it applies to.

"They were listing people that were barred and 'president' is not there," she said. "I guess that just makes me worry that maybe they weren't focused on the president."

Thomas asked Mitchell to expound on whether Section 3 is a self-executing clause.

Responding to Thomas, Mitchell repeated that the execution of Section 3 relies solely on congressional action.

"Even if the candidate is an admitted insurrectionist, Section 3 still allows the candidate to run for office, and even win election for office and then see whether Congress lifts that disability after the election," Mitchell said.

Section 3 states that Congress may overturn the disqualification of a candidate with a two-thirds vote.

Mitchell concluded his time by saying the attack on the U.S. Capitol was a "riot," "violent" and "criminal," but not an insurrection. He added that he does not concede that Trump participated.

'Hard questions'

The justices seemed skeptical about upholding the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling, but Murray said after the hearing that he remains confident.

"Getting hard questions has been the story of this case. We got an awful lot of hard questions from the Colorado Supreme Court that ultimately determined we were right," he said on the steps of the Supreme Court.

"You don't do hard things without asking hard questions. Even though we are right on the law, we understand that what we're asking the Supreme Court to recognize is something extraordinary."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called on Thomas to recuse himself from the case on Wednesday, citing his wife's alleged involvement in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in favor of Trump.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with a lower court judge that Trump engaged in an insurrection and incited the riot by "exhorting his supporters" with false claims about election fraud.

"We conclude that the foregoing evidence, the great bulk of which was undisputed at trial, established that President Trump engaged in insurrection," the court ruled.

"President Trump's direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevent what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary."

Trump's attorneys have also argued that Trump's claims about the 2020 presidential election are protected speech and that he was acting in his role as president by investigating the results and validity of the election.

Trump's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court argues that Congress should determine a candidate's eligibility.

"The question of eligibility to serve as president of the United States is properly reserved for Congress, not the state courts, to consider and decide," Trump's attorneys wrote. "By considering the question of President Trump's eligibility and barring him from the ballot, the Colorado Supreme Court arrogated Congress' authority."

Despite the Colorado district court's decision that Trump would remain on the ballot, he appealed that judge's ruling that he incited and engaged in an insurrection.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington represented the Colorado voters in a district court procedure and in the state's supreme court.

Several more states' courts have faced the same question. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Maine rejected attempts to remove Trump from the ballot.