Led by former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson, prominent Minnesota voters filed a petition Tuesday to keep former President Donald Trump off the 2024 ballot because of his role in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
Free Speech for People, which is leading a national effort to bar Trump, filed the petition on behalf of the group that is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to direct Secretary of State Steve Simon to withhold Trump's name from the primary and general election ballots next year.
"Voting is the foundation of our American democracy," Growe said in a statement. "This petition is the continuation of my work as Secretary of State to protect our democracy and uphold the United States Constitution."
The petition cites the insurrection disqualification clause in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Civil War-era clause says former public officials are barred from running for office again if they have given aid or comfort to enemies engaging in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States. No criminal conviction is required.
"Trump's involvement in the violent attack on Congress to prevent the certification of election results, which resulted in the disruption of the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our nation's history, disqualifies him from holding any future public office," the group's statement said.
Minneapolis lawyer Charles Nauen, who is acting as co-counsel, said at a news conference, "We're prepared to move very swiftly with this petition."
The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a schedule soon.
A similar lawsuit was recently filed in Denver, and Section 3 has been widely discussed across the country in part because of a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article written by two Federalist Society members and law professors: Michael Stokes Paulsen at the University of St. Thomas and William Baude at the University of Chicago.
"Donald Trump cannot be president — cannot run for president, cannot become president, cannot hold office — unless two-thirds of Congress decides to grant him amnesty for his conduct on Jan. 6," Baude said, summarizing the article in an interview with the New York Times last month.
The filing in Minnesota comes from a bipartisan group of leaders, including Growe, a DFLer and longtime elections leader, and Anderson, who worked for former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson's campaign before Carlson appointed Anderson to the court in 1994. Anderson stepped down when he hit the mandatory retirement age in 2013. Also on the petition is former Steele County GOP co-chairman David Thul, a 22-year veteran of the Minnesota National Guard.
State GOP Chairman David Hann said the petition hinges on what he called a fringe legal theory. "The Republican Party of Minnesota believes that voters in Minnesota should ultimately decide through voting which candidates are qualified to represent them in public office."
During a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Simon said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked sooner rather than later whether to allow Trump on the ballot.
After the petition was filed, Simon said he hopes the state court takes up and rules on the petition quickly.
"We want there to be an orderly election in 2024," Simon said. He called Trump "a major figure with a major following" who deserves a resolution to the ballot question quickly to "remove the cloud not only from the individual but from the election itself so people know what their choices are."
The clock is ticking: The parties must submit their candidates to the state for the primary by Jan. 2, and absentee voting starts Jan. 19, meaning the ballots must be ready, Simon said.
The petitioners cited in their filing multiple actions taken by Trump in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, including repeatedly making false claims of widespread election fraud and urging former Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of President Joe Biden.
Trump also incited his supporters, some of them armed, to march to the U.S. Capitol and "fight like hell," the petition said.
The petition notes that as the insurrection unfolded, Trump stayed in the White House dining room and refused to call off his supporters for more than three hours as they violently attacked U.S. Capitol police and forced members of Congress into hiding. It also states that judges hearing Jan. 6-related criminal cases have repeatedly said Trump is responsible for the insurrection.
Free Speech for People unsuccessfully filed similar petitions in 2022 against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., for their roles in the Jan. 6 events.
The petition said those failed challenges laid the legal framework for the Trump petition by determining that states have the legal authority to enforce the clause, that no criminal conviction is required and that an 1872 congressional amnesty for ex-Confederates does not apply to Jan. 6 participants.
"This is not theater. This is not playing politics. Section 3 is a critical tool for protecting our republic and our constitutional democracy," said Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People.
Petitioners said it has been used successfully in the recent past. In September 2022, a judge in New Mexico permanently barred barred Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump, from holding office under the clause.
In a rebuttal to the Pennsylvania Law Review article on the Federalist Society website, two other prominent professors contend that Trump will remain on the ballot as arguments to remove him won't hold up in court.
John Yoo at the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Delahunty, formerly of St. Thomas and now a fellow at the Claremont Institute's Center for the American Way of Life in Washington, D.C., say the 14th Amendment remains relevant. But the two say that Paulsen and Baude "err in believing that anyone, down to the lowest county election worker, has the right to strike Trump from the ballot."
To Delahunty and Yoo, the question is whether Trump was an insurrectionist, a point on which they say there is little agreement.
"If it were clear that Trump engaged in insurrection, the Justice Department should have acted on the Jan. 6 Committee's referral for prosecution on that charge," they wrote, adding that Special Counsel Jack Smith should have indicted him for the federal crimes of insurrection or seditious conspiracy.
Both worked for the Justice Department during Republican President George W. Bush's administration, when they wrote a memo saying the Geneva Conventions didn't protect al Quaeda and Taliban detainees from abusive interrogations.
The two wrote that the special counsel's failure to charge Trump and the Senate's failure to convict him of a second impeachment highlight "a serious flaw in the academic theory of disqualification."
Fein said in a statement that Trump violated his oath of office by inciting an insurrection. "Our predecessors understood that oath-breaking insurrectionists will do it again, and worse, if allowed back into power," he said.
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.