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Plaintiffs look to Michigan Supreme Court in Trump ballot lawsuit

Signs that say "vote here" sit on the lawn outside a building housing three of Blair Township's voting precincts.
Amanda Sewell
Signs mark the way to three of Blair Township's voting precincts. (Photo: Amanda Sewell/IPR)

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit to keep former President Donald Trump off Michigan’s presidential primary ballot are appealing the dismissal of the case.

Attorneys filed an emergency bypass application this week to have the case skip the Court of Appeals and go straight to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The lawsuit sought to invoke the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s “insurrection clause” against Trump. It contends Trump’s alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol should disqualify him from office.

Last week, the Michigan Court of Claims rejected that argument.

In the court’s denial, Judge James Redford cited Michigan’s constitutional and statutory requirements for placing a candidate’s name on the ballot. He also asserted the matter was a “political question,” not one for the courts to rule on.

“[The] judicial action of removing a candidate from the presidential ballot and prohibiting them from running essentially strips Congress of its ability to ‘by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such a disability,’” Redford wrote.

The group Free Speech for People organized the lawsuit.

Its legal director, Ron Fein, argues the ruling was a dodge.

“The Court of Claims ducked a decision on the merits and tried to avoid the question of whether Donald Trump was disqualified under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and the Michigan Supreme Court has got to correct that and give an answer,” Fein said.

Republicans had praised the initial ruling.

“This ruling highlights the Michigan Legislature’s established process for placing candidates on the presidential primary ballot, which seems to be evermore attacked by the day,” read a statement from the Michigan Republican Party. “This process, as the Court noted, is designated to assist political parties in selecting their presidential candidates.”

But Fein said the Trump situation is the type of case framers of the amendment had in mind when writing it after the U.S. Civil War.

“The framers understood that someone who would launch an insurrection against the United States, if they are allowed back into power, would do the same or worse.”

The Michigan lawsuit is part of a nationwide strategy from multiple organizations to block Trump’s candidacy. Another similar ballot-access challenge has been filed in Colorado.

Fein said he hopes to see more lawsuits going forward in the coming weeks and months.

“Donald Trump is disqualified under the constitution in every state in the union and we will file legal challenges that demonstrate this in key states,” Fein said.

The Trump campaign did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Trump has previously said that First Amendment protections for free speech shield him from eligibility challenges based on the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause.