The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a request Wednesday to bar former President Donald Trump from the 2024 primary ballot under the U.S. Constitution's insurrection clause — but it said the petitioners could refile the challenge for the general election.
The court's four-page order didn't address the constitutional issues, but it said no Minnesota law prohibits a major political party from placing on the ballot or nominating "a candidate who is ineligible to hold office."
Writing for the court, Chief Justice Natalie Hudson said whether Trump can be on the general election ballot is a matter to be decided later. Hudson said the court will release a longer opinion explaining Wednesday's order.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung issued a statement saying the decision is "further validation of the Trump campaign's consistent argument that the 14th Amendment ballot challenges are nothing more than strategic, un-Constitutional attempts to interfere with the election."
Cheung contended the ballot challenges are funded by left-wing activist groups masquerading as "non-partisan watchdogs."
In September, a bipartisan group filed the petition seeking to bar Trump from the Minnesota ballot based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The so-called insurrection clause that dates back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era prohibits former officers from holding office again if they've "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" or "given aid or comfort" to those who did.
Filing the petition were the nonprofit Free Speech for People, former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe and former Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson. Their attorney, Ronald Fein, argued that Trump is disqualified from holding future office because of his actions on and leading up to Jan. 6, 2021.
The ruling came quickly; five justices heard oral arguments on the case last Thursday and sounded skeptical during the 70-minute session.
After the order came out, Fein said the petitioners were disappointed, but he noted that the decision was based only on Minnesota law, not the U.S. Constitution.
"However, the Minnesota Supreme Court explicitly recognized that the question of Donald Trump's disqualification for engaging in insurrection against the U.S. Constitution may be resolved at a later stage," Fein's statement said.
Fein said the decision has no impact on Free Speech for People's challenge in Michigan, or a challenge from another group in Colorado or potential challenges in other states. Nor does it preclude the coalition "from raising the same claims before the general election, if Trump's candidacy proceeds to that point," Fein said in a statement.
During oral arguments last week, Fein told the five justices that there is "ample authority" to disqualify Trump and that the constitutional directive to the court was to do so.
The state GOP has argued that blocking Trump violates its First Amendment right of association, because doing so would restrict whom the GOP can choose as its presidential candidate.
Nicholas Nelson, the attorney for Trump and his campaign, said last week that the events of Jan. 6, 2021, didn't qualify as an insurrection or rebellion. He argued that some serious crime and violence took place but nothing on the scale or scope of an insurrection.
Arguing for Secretary of State Steve Simon last week, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn took no position on Trump's eligibility but asked the court to rule no later than Jan. 5 so county election officials would have time to prepare the ballots. Absentee voting for the primary begins Jan. 19.
Simon said Wednesday he was grateful for the court's quick action. "We're going to abide by what the court says. We understand that another lawsuit may be coming," Simon said.
Joining Hudson in the decision were Justices G. Barry Anderson, Anne McKeig, Gordon Moore and Paul Thissen.
Justices Margaret Chutich and Karl Procaccini recused themselves for unstated reasons but presumably because Charles Nauen, a lawyer for the petitioners, is tied to the justices' election campaigns.
University of Minnesota School of Law professor Alan Rozenshtein said he was somewhat mystified by the decision. "It's unclear why the court would delay hearing the case since hearing it now would have the benefit of allowing Minnesota Republican voters to choose a different candidate," he said.
Former state Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug said that because the ruling was based on state law and not the U.S. Constitution, it's "highly unlikely" the Minnesota petition would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The highly unusual request for Trump's disqualification was the focus of a daylong seminar at the U's law school last week featuring constitutional law and political experts from across the country.
Section 3 rose to prominence in part because of an upcoming article to be published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review that was co-written by two Federalist Society members, including Michael Stokes Paulsen at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
The 126-page article, available online, said the provision in the Constitution bars Trump from holding office again.