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Colorado Supreme Court removes Trump from 2024 ballot

What we covered here

  • In a stunning decision, the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday removed former President Donald Trump from the state’s 2024 ballot, ruling that he isn’t an eligible presidential candidate because of the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban.”
  • The ruling will be placed on hold until January 4, pending Trump’s appeal to the US Supreme Court, which could settle the matter for the nation. Read the 4-3 decision.
  • The Trump campaign, which said it would swiftly appeal, described the ruling as "a completely flawed decision." Trump denies wrongdoing regarding January 6 and has decried the 14th Amendment lawsuits as an abuse of the legal process.
  • The state Supreme Court decision only applies to Colorado but the historic ruling will roil the 2024 presidential campaign. 
Our live coverage has ended. Follow the latest news or read through the updates below.
11:08 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Here are key takeaways from the unprecedented 14th Amendment ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court

Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Waterloo, Iowa, on December 19. Charlie Neibergall/AP
The Colorado Supreme Court made history Tuesday with an unprecedented, freeze-in-your-tracks ruling that former President Donald Trump is constitutionally ineligible to run in 2024 because the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists holding public office covers his conduct on January 6, 2021.
The 4-3 decision removes Trump from the Republican primary ballot in Colorado, which is scheduled for Super Tuesday in early March. However, the Colorado justices paused their ruling so Trump can appeal to the US Supreme Court, which could even preserve his spot on the state’s primary ballot if the appeal isn’t settled quickly.
In many ways, the landmark ruling holds Trump accountable for trying to overturn the 2020 election and provides a political punishment for his anti-democratic behavior. The ruling is also a massive vindication for the liberal groups and constitutional scholars of all stripes who championed such 14th Amendment lawsuits despite their long odds.
Here are the key takeaways from the decision and what comes next:
Trump engaged in insurrection, court says: The top Colorado court upheld the trial judge’s conclusions that the January 6 assault on the US Capitol was an insurrection and that Trump “engaged in” that insurrection.

These are key legal hurdles that the challengers needed to clear before Trump could be removed from any ballot, largely because the text of the 14th Amendment doesn’t actually define an “insurrection” or spell out what it means to “engage in” insurrection.

The justices also affirmed the decision that Trump’s January 6 speech at the Ellipse was not protected by the First Amendment. Trump has unsuccessfully pushed this argument in state and federal courts, which found that he incited violence when he told supporters to “walk down to the Capitol” and “fight like hell” to “take back our country.”

The "insurrectionist ban" does apply to Trump: The justices broke from the trial judge on one key issue, reversing her controversial decision that the “insurrectionist ban” applies to every office except the presidency.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment says oath-breaking insurrectionists can’t serve as senators, representatives, presidential electors, “or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State.” But it doesn’t mention the presidency.

This textual vagueness is why the trial judge kept Trump on the 2024 ballot. But the high court disagreed. And this was the linchpin of their decision to disqualify Trump.

The US Supreme Court will have the ultimate say: Everyone knows this isn’t the final word. The case is headed to the US Supreme Court.

It’s anyone’s guess how the justices will handle the case. How fast will they decide to take up the appeal? Will they hold oral arguments? How quickly will they issue a final decision? The answers to these questions will have implications for the political calendar, with the Iowa caucuses kicking off the GOP primary season in less than a month.

Read more on the takeaways from the historic ruling.
10:50 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Plaintiffs in Colorado election case believe they have a good chance with US Supreme Court, attorney says

Sean Grimsley attends a hearing in Denver on November 15. Jack Dempsey/AP/File

Sean Grimsley, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Colorado 14th Amendment case, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins he believes they have a good chance if the US Supreme Court takes up the case. 

“I do think we have a good shot on the substance,” Grimsley said Tuesday. 

“We do. I think we have a chance at the Supreme Court,” he said. “First of all, (Former President Donald) Trump is going to have to convince the Supreme Court to take this case – and I can imagine a world in which the Supreme Court says this is pretty early on in the election cycle, let’s see how this plays out in some other states first.”

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday evening removed Trump from the state’s 2024 ballot, ruling that he isn’t an eligible presidential candidate because of the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban.” 

Trump is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Grimsley said he believes the conservative-leaning high court will agree with their arguments.

 “I think the arguments that we’re going to make — the historical-based arguments — are going to be very appealing to some of the conservative justices there,” he said. “And, I don’t think they have any great fealty from a political standpoint to President Trump. They have a conservative viewpoint of the Constitution, but we think the argument we are making regarding the Constitution is a conservative one.”

Asked about the argument that some people believe this takes away the right of voters in Colorado who want to vote for Trump, Grimsley said any presidential candidate must meet the qualifications. 

9:48 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

"Their opinion is unassailable." Prominent former conservative federal judge hails Colorado court's decision

Former federal appellate judge and prominent conservative J. Michael Luttig appears on CNN on Tuesday, December 19, to discuss the ruling. CNN

The decision by Colorado’s Supreme Court Tuesday to remove former President Donald Trump from the state's 2024 ballot is “unassailable,” according to former federal appellate judge and prominent conservative J. Michael Luttig.

“The individual justices of the Colorado Supreme Court brought honor to their court as well to the state and federal judiciaries with their opinion tonight in this historic case,” Luttig told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “AC360” Tuesday, describing their "meticulous" efforts to address all the issues involved in the case.
“Their opinion is unassailable under the objective law of the federal constitution and section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court of the United States ought to affirm this decision today,” he added.
Luttig, who holds bona fide conservative credentials with longstanding ties to the Supreme Court, has been an outspoken critic of Trump and has – along with liberal law professor Laurence Tribe – advocated for the use of the 14th amendment to bar the former president from running for office. 

The former judge pushed back on arguments against the strength of the Colorado case – which have pointed at several similar cases that have failed – arguing instead that the Colorado Supreme Court is the first “appellate court in any state, to rule on the applicability of section 3 to the former president. The other cases that have been decided have been decided on state law grounds and/or jurisdictional grounds. So this case stands alone.”

 Luttig also challenged the opinion penned by one of the three dissenters on the seven-member Colorado Supreme Court who said he would have dismissed the challenge to Trump’s eligibility. 

“I called it unassailable because, as you noted, the preeminent constitutional scholar of our time, Professor Laurence Tribe, and I have been studying this for three years now in the wake of January 6th. Professor Tribe has been studying section 3 of the 14th Amendment literally for his entire career. So, when we say…that the opinion is unassailable, that means he and I have taken into account every single argument contrary to every point made by the court today and concluding all of the contrary evidence to the opinion tonight – and it is unassailable,” Luttig said.

He added that the US Supreme Court will “have to decide what the meaning of an insurrection or rebellion is for purposes of the 14th Amendment. And that's what the Supreme Court of Colorado did today, and its reasoning and its support for that conclusion is also unassailable.”

9:35 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

GOP senator will offer legislation to prevent states from disqualifying presidential candidates from ballot

Tillis speaks at a news conference on July 19. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/FILE

Republican Sen.Thom Tillis said he plans to introduce legislation to prevent states from disqualifying presidential candidates from the ballot “on Constitutional matters that should be decided by only the Supreme Court.”

Tillis made the announcement shortly after the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday removed former President Donald Trump from the state’s 2024 ballot, ruling that he isn’t an eligible presidential candidate because of the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban.”

“Regardless of whether you support or oppose former President Donald Trump, it is outrageous to see left-wing activists make a mockery of our political system by scheming with partisan state officials and pressuring judges to remove him from the ballot,” Tillis said in a statement.
“American voters, not partisan activists, should decide who we elect as our President," he went on. "The Constitutional Election Integrity Act would put any constitutional challenges in the sole place they belong: the U.S. Supreme Court.”

It is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, will have the Senate take up the legislation.

8:56 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Colorado secretary of state vows to follow court’s decision disqualifying Trump from ballot

Colorado's Secretary of State Jenna Griswold appears on CNN on Tuesday, December 19. CNN

Colorado’s secretary of state vowed Tuesday to follow the state Supreme Court’s ruling disqualifying former President Donald Trump from Colorado’s ballot. She disagreed with the dissenting justices’ rulings that the court erred in its decision. 

“My job as secretary of state is to make sure that only qualified candidates appear on our ballot,” Secretary of State Jenna Griswold told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “AC360.”
“ I, of course, will follow whatever court decision is in place.” 

Griswold said she believes Trump "incited the insurrection and that it's up to a court to determine whether that incitement disqualifies him from further holding office under the Constitution."

“This is exactly how Colorado law is set up," she said. "Everyday voters can file a lawsuit to have a court weigh in.” 

“I do disagree with the dissent, but ultimately it is up to the court systems,” Griswold said, adding that she does not think “it is impossible or not permissible under Colorado law to disqualify a candidate from the presidential primary.”  

9:50 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

House speaker and other Republicans react to Colorado ruling to pull Trump off the state's ballot

House Speaker Mike Johnson, seen here on December12, issued a statement about the ruling. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/FILE

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel attacked the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to remove former President Donald Trump from the state's 2024 ballot
She called it "election interference" in a post to X, and said the RNC's legal team "looks forward to helping fight for a victory."
House Speaker Mike Johnson said the ruling was "nothing but a thinly veiled partisan attack." He said voters should be able to decide the nominee.
"Regardless of political affiliation, every citizen registered to vote should not be denied the right to support our former president and the individual who is the leader in every poll of the Republican primary," Johnson said.
Candidates weigh in: GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy called the court's decision an “actual attack on democracy."
In a post on X, Ramaswamy pledged to withdraw from the Colorado GOP primary unless Trump is allowed to be on the ballot. He called on other candidates to do the same, arguing, “or else they are tacitly endorsing this illegal maneuver which will have disastrous consequences for our country.” 
“Today’s decision is the latest election interference tactic to silence political opponents and swing the election for whatever puppet the Democrats put up this time by depriving Americans of the right to vote for their candidate of choice,” he wrote.
Chris Christie would not comment directly on the decision since he said he had not yet read it. But he commented that, generally, he believes it would be "bad for the country" if Trump were kept off a ballot by a legal decision, adding there hasn't yet been a criminal trial proving Trump has incited an insurrection.
"But what I will say is this, I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court. I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters in this country," he said.
Nikki Haley said ballot decisions shouldn't be left to the courts.
“We don’t need to have judges making these decisions, we need voters to make these decisions. So, I want to see this in the hands of the voters. We’re going to win this the right way. We’re going to do what we need to do, but the last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can’t be on the ballot,” Haley said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the US Supreme Court to reverse the Colorado ruling.
“The Left invokes ‘democracy’ to justify its use of power, even if it means abusing judicial power to remove a candidate from the ballot based on spurious legal grounds. SCOTUS should reverse,” DeSantis posted on X.

Several Trump allies expressed outrage at the ruling:

  • Trump's former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson claimed Colorado "decided to disenfranchise the people of their state by choosing to remove Donald Trump from the ballot."
  • House GOP Chairwoman Elise Stefanik slammed the decision as "unprecedented, constant, and illegal election interference."
  • Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who campaigned for Trump in Iowa on Friday, asserted on X that the decision was exemplary of “what dictators do,” repeating a line used by the Trump campaign when fundraising off the court’s ruling.
  • Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake labeled the judges as “partisan,” calling the decision “HISTORIC election interference.”
The post was updated several times with more GOP reactions to the Colorado court ruling.
8:20 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Appeal process could keep Trump on primary ballot in Colorado, analyst says

Donald Trump could remain on Colorado’s presidential ballot if the former president decides to appeal the state Supreme Court’s historic ruling that ordered his removal Tuesday.

If Trump even asks the US Supreme Court to step in by January 4 – the date set by the Colorado Supreme Court for parties to appeal before the ruling goes into effect – the decision will remain paused, according to Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas Law School.

That means the GOP frontrunner will “almost certainly” remain on Colorado’s primary ballot on March 5, according to Vladeck.

7:29 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Colorado Supreme Court says it did not "reach these conclusions lightly" in ruling against Trump

The Colorado Supreme Court said it does "not reach these conclusions lightly" after finding that former President Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, 2021, when he called for the crowd to march to the US Capitol, was not protected by the First Amendment.

"We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us. We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach,” the court said in its decision.

The court found that Trump "intended that his speech would result in the use of violence or lawless action on January 6 to prevent the peaceful transfer of power."

According to the court’s ruling, despite Trump’s “knowledge of the anger that he had instigated, his calls to arms, his awareness of the threats of violence that had been made leading up to January 6, and the obvious fact that many in the crowd were angry and armed, President Trump told his riled-up supporters to walk down to the Capitol and fight.” 

Trump then “stood back and let the fighting happen, despite having the ability and authority to stop it (with his words or by calling in the military), thereby confirming that this violence was what he intended,” the court found. 

“When President Trump told his supporters that they were ‘allowed to go by very different rules’ and that if they did not ‘fight like hell,’ they would not ‘have a country anymore,’ it was likely that his supporters would heed his encouragement and act violently,” the court found. 
7:18 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Colorado Supreme Court finds "insurrectionist ban" applies to presidency — reversing lower court

The Colorado Supreme Court decision disqualifying Donald Trump from the 2024 primary ballot reversed the trial judge’s conclusion that the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” doesn’t apply to the presidency. 
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment says:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State,” if they took an oath to “support” the Constitution and then engaged in insurrection.
But it doesn’t say anything about the presidency.

The trial judge concluded that because of the vagueness and omissions in the constitutional amendment, the ban doesn’t apply to the presidency. 

But the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed. The court said there was enough evidence to conclude that “the drafters of this Amendment intended the phrase ‘any office’ to be broadly inclusive, and certainly to include the Presidency.” 

“We do not place the same weight the district court did on the fact that the Presidency is not specifically mentioned in Section Three. It seems most likely that the Presidency is not specifically included because it is so evidently an ‘office,’” the court said in its decision. 

The justices continued: “A conclusion that the Presidency is something other than an office ‘under’ the United States is fundamentally at odds with the idea that all government officials, including the President, serve ‘we the people.’”