The US Supreme Court appeared poised on Thursday to toss out a state court ruling that would bar Donald Trump from running for president again.
During two hours of high-stakes arguments, both conservative and liberal members of the nation's highest court expressed concern about having individual states decide which candidates can be on the presidential ballot this November.
It is the most consequential election law case to reach the court since it halted the Florida vote recount in 2000 with Republican George W. Bush narrowly leading Democrat Al Gore.
The question before the nine justices is whether Trump is ineligible to appear on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Colorado because he engaged in an insurrection -- the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Colorado's Supreme Court, citing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ruled in December that Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, should be kicked off the ballot because of his role in the January 6 attack on Congress.
Jonathan Mitchell, a former solicitor general of Texas representing Trump, denied that the events of January 6 constituted an insurrection and said only Congress can disqualify a candidate.
"The Colorado Supreme Court's decision is wrong and should be reversed," Mitchell said, adding that it would "take away the votes of potentially tens of millions of Americans."
Jason Murry, representing Colorado voters who brought the case, countered that the 14th Amendment clearly bars anyone from holding public office if they engaged in "insurrection or rebellion" after once pledging to support and defend the Constitution.
The 77-year-old Trump, speaking to reporters in Florida, said he hoped for a ruling in his favor.
Pointing out his dominance in Republican opinion polls, he said: "Can you take the person that's leading everywhere and say, 'Hey, we're not gonna let you run?' You know, I think that's pretty tough to do, but I'm leaving it up to the Supreme Court."
- 'Daunting consequence' -
Colorado and more than a dozen other states are to hold their presidential nominating contests on March 5 -- also known as "Super Tuesday" -- and the court is expected to issue its ruling before then.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, expressed concern over what he called the "daunting consequence" of upholding the state court ruling and warned it could lead to "disqualification proceedings on the other side."
"I would expect that a goodly number of states will say 'Whoever the Democratic candidate is, you're off the ballot,'" Roberts said.
Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, and several other justices, three of whom were nominated by Trump, appeared to be skeptical about leaving ballot issues to individual states.
"I think that the question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States?" Kagan said. "Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination not only for their own citizens but for the rest of the nation?"
"Different states can have different procedures," Murray replied. "Some states may allow insurrectionists to be on the ballot."
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative, said disqualifying Trump would have "the effect of disenfranchising voters to a significant degree."
"The reason we're here is that president Trump tried to disenfranchise 80 million Americans who voted against him and the Constitution doesn't require that he be given another chance," Murray replied.
- 'Remove Trump' -
About 20 demonstrators, some carrying signs reading "Trump Is A Traitor" and "Remove Trump," protested outside the Supreme Court.
The high court has historically been loath to get involved in political questions, but it is taking center stage in this year's White House race.
Besides the Colorado case, the Supreme Court may also agree to hear an appeal by Trump of a lower court ruling that he is not immune from criminal prosecution as a former president and can be tried on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives for inciting an insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate.