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Supreme Court hears historic case on removing Trump from ballot

What we covered here

  • Today's high-stakes hearing: The Supreme Court appears poised to back former President Donald Trump and fend off a blockbuster challenge to his eligibility to appear on Colorado’s 2024 ballot, a move that would extract the justices from one of the most politically fraught appeals in the court’s history.
  • What the justices said: The justices’ questions suggested they may support putting Trump back on the ballot as they expressed skepticism of Colorado's arguments. Chief Justice John Roberts, a key vote to watch, said the arguments are “at war” with the thrust of the 14th Amendment. Liberal Justice Elena Kagan questioned the implications of a single state banning a candidate in a presidential election.
  • What’s at stake: The high court’s decision could have major ramifications in other states with pending litigation to remove Trump from their 2024 ballots. If the court rules to keep Trump off the ballot before Colorado’s March 5 primary, the state has said votes for him would not count. 
  • Trump juggles legal battles and campaign: This is only one of the many legal cases Trump faces as he campaigns for another term. Ahead of flying to Nevada for the GOP caucuses, Trump slammed the Colorado case in remarks from Florida. 
Our live coverage has ended. Read more about today's events in the posts on this page.
7:56 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Inside the court: CNN reporter describes her experience in the press pen

While dozens of journalists are inside the courtroom at the Supreme Court, not one laptop or cellphone is.  

Unlike campaign events – which I usually cover – inside the Supreme Court, no electronics are allowed. Just pen and paper.

Even the smallest sounds can be heard, like someone jingling keys — or papers shuffling, as I discovered, as my case preview pamphlet slid to the floor. 

An area for the press exists to the left of the bench, and good views are not guaranteed. Rows F and G are partially obstructed by large marble columns draped in red curtains with gold trim. The spaces between the columns are open, and depending on your vantage point, slices of the courtroom are visible.

From where I was sitting in seat G-1, I had a nearly perpendicular view of the justices, in sight of Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. 

While Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson were a little harder to see. Sitting up tall in my seat or moving only my head slightly to the left helped to determine who had the floor, as well as their recognizable voices. 

You cannot switch seats, move your seat or lean your body over for a better glimpse, which I learned quickly. 

Shifting my chair over an inch didn’t go unnoticed by staff monitoring the press, as I was asked to shift it right back. 

Press may exit the courtroom during arguments, but once you leave, you cannot return. Several reporters, however, left before the case was submitted — at least one person after Trump attorney Jonathan Mitchell's time at the lectern and more after Jason Murray’s turn.

While silence is requested in the high court, there were moments of levity, where the justices made a comment that evoked laughter. One example was during an exchange between Mitchell and Kagan. 

Mitchell acknowledged to one of her points, “There certainly is some tension and some commentators have pointed this out. Professor Baude and Professor Paulsen criticized Griffin’s case very sharply...”

Kagan kindly interrupted, “Then I must be right,” as people laughed. 

Another moment of laughter surrounded the order of specific questions. Kagan jumped in as Jackson pivoted to another point about the officer/office debate: “Could we — is that OK if we do this and then do that? Will there be an opportunity to do officer stuff or should we–?”

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Roberts said, diffusing the confusion, as people laughed.

8:49 a.m. ET, February 9, 2024

Here are key takeaways from the Supreme Court oral arguments on the Trump 14th Amendment case

Jonathan Mitchell, an attorney representing former President Donald Trump, speaks in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments on February 8. Bill Hennessy

The Supreme Court signaled Thursday it is poised to back former President Donald Trump and fend off a blockbuster challenge to his eligibility to appear on Colorado’s ballot.

Here are key takeaways from Thursday’s oral arguments:
Conservatives suggest several ways to side with Trump: Throughout the course of the arguments, the court’s conservatives repeatedly questioned whether the insurrection ban was intended to apply to former presidents and whether the ban could be enforced without Congress first enacting a law. Others delved into more fundamental questions about whether courts removing a candidate from the ballot is democratic.

“Your position has the effect of disenfranchising voters to a significant degree,” conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in one of the more striking exchanges with attorneys.

If Trump is removed from the ballot in Colorado, Chief Justice John Roberts predicted that states would eventually attempt to knock other candidates off the ballot. That, he signaled, would be inconsistent with the purpose and history of the 14th Amendment. “It’ll come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election,” Roberts said. “That’s a pretty daunting consequence.”

Jackson and liberals have tough questions for challengers: Another sign that the court was leaning toward Trump’s position: Even some of the liberal justices posed difficult questions to the lawyers representing his challengers.

Notably, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Joe Biden nominee, said that the 14th Amendment provision did not include the word “president,” even though it specifically listed other officials who would be covered, such as members of Congress. That is a central argument Trump’s attorneys have raised in the case. “I guess that just makes me worry that maybe they weren’t focused on the president,” Jackson said.

Justice Elena Kagan questioned the implications of a single state banning a candidate in a presidential election. “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?” Kagan asked.

Justices didn’t focus on Trump’s January 6 actions: The nine justices spent little time on the former president’s actions surrounding the January 6 attack on the US Capitol that sparked the ballot challenge in Colorado and elsewhere. There were more questions, in fact, about the Civil War and how the insurrectionist ban in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution was enacted in order to grapple with confederates who fought against the Union.
Next steps: The court often takes a few months to craft opinions – and usually hands down its biggest cases at the end of its term in June. But because the court expedited the earlier stages of the Trump ballot case, it is likely the court will want to move quickly to decide the case, potentially within a matter of weeks.
4:14 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

See sketches from today's Supreme Court oral arguments on Trump's ballot case

Bill Hennessy, CNN's regular sketch artist for the Supreme Court, captured scenes of today's oral arguments on Donald Trump's ballot eligibility case as it unfolded.

Trump’s attorney, Jonathan Mitchell, kicked off the arguments with a brief opening statement and then fielded a barrage of questions from the nine justices. Jason Murray, representing the Colorado voters who challenged Trump, presented next. Finally, Shannon Stevenson, Colorado’s top appellate attorney, spoke on behalf of Secretary of State Jena Griswold. At the end of the arguments, Mitchell then returned for a short rebuttal.

Norma Anderson, the Colorado Republican leading the lawsuit seeking to disqualify Trump from office, attended the arguments. Trump was not in the room and slammed the case against him in remarks from Florida.

While the Supreme Court shares live audio from proceedings, cameras are not allowed inside the room. Here's a look at some of the scenes Hennessy captured in his sketches:

Jason Murray, the attorney representing a group of Colorado voters challenging Donald Trump’s eligibility for the 2024 ballot, speaks in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments on Thursday. Bill Hennessy

Norma Anderson sits in the audience of the Supreme Court during oral arguments on Thursday. Bill Hennessy

Shannon Stevenson, Colorado Solicitor General, speaks in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday. Bill Hennessy

5:26 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Justice Kagan: It is important for the Supreme Court to avoid appearance of politics

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan speaks during an event at the Library of Congress on Thursday in Washington, DC. Jess Rapfogel/AP

Justice Elena Kagan told an audience in Washington, DC, on Thursday that it is critically important for the Supreme Court to provide stability and avoid “flip flops” in the law to steer clear of the appearance of politics.

“And I think that that's especially important for this Supreme Court at this time,” Kagan said.

“Law should not look like a form of politics where just because the composition of the court changes, a whole batch of legal rules change with it," she said.
Kagan spoke at the Library of Congress hours after the Supreme Court heard arguments in the challenge to former President Donald Trump’s eligibility to appear on Colorado’s ballot, though she was not speaking about that case specifically. Kagan has made similar arguments in the past, particularly after the court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Kagan was interviewed by Jeffrey Sutton, chief judge of the Cincinnati-based 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Kagan studiously avoided discussing the arguments that took place earlier Thursday, though she and Sutton briefly joked about the timing of the event later in the day.

“So another slow day in the office?” Sutton quipped.

4:10 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Lead plaintiff in Colorado ballot case: Republicans "better sit down and read their Constitution"

Norma Anderson speaks to reporters following Supreme Court oral arguments in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters

Following Thursday's Supreme Court oral arguments, Norma Anderson has a plain message to the Republican Party of which Donald Trump is the overwhelming 2024 frontrunner. 
“They better sit down and read their Constitution. That’s the best message I can give them,” Anderson told CNN.

Anderson, 91, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to remove Trump from the ballot based on his role in the January 6, 2021, riot, said protecting democracy starts by electing the right people. 

“I remember World War II, and I remember everyone in the United States pulled together to protect our democracy. We’re not doing that now. Democracy is precious. It doesn’t last, unless you take care of it,” Anderson said. “Taking care of it is electing correct people. Not people that want to throw out an election. That’s what other countries do. That’s not what we do.”

Being thrust into the spotlight in recent months, Anderson — a former Republican lawmaker in Colorado who has already broken barriers — said what compelled her to be part of this case is to protect the freedoms of the United States, especially as a grandmother.

“I've lived in a free country, and I visited countries that are not free. And I don't want to be like them, Anderson said.

"I want to keep our democracy and our freedom. It's very important to me ... I've got 14 grandchildren, two great grandchildren," she added. "Pardon me, I want them to have a good country to live in."

2:19 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Thursday's courtroom atmosphere was "much more tepid" in comparison to Bush v. Gore, CNN analyst says

The atmosphere in the Supreme Court on Thursday was "much more tepid" when compared to the oral arguments held for Bush v. Gore in 2000, according to CNN senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic, who was in the courtroom for hearings during both cases.
"Not only could you feel pretty quickly where it was going, the rhythm was not confrontational," she said of Thursday's hearing.

She noted that the justices today did not talk to each other as they commonly do during oral arguments.

"In this case, you could feel that like they didn't have to make the case to each other," she said. "There were enough of them who came into this argument ready to reject the Colorado voters' position, so the tension was just much lower."

During the Bush v. Gore hearing, Biskupic said "there was a lot more tension among the justices, a lot of interrupting, a lot of rapid fire questions."

4:24 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Fact Check: Trump falsely claims there were "no guns" on January 6

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference held at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday in Palm Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In comments to reporters on Thursday after the conclusion of the Supreme Court hearing, former President Donald Trump claimed that “there were no guns, there were no anything” at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. People who illegally entered Capitol grounds during the January 6 riot were armed with guns and a wide variety of other weapons, including stun gunsknivesbatonsbaseball bats and chemical sprays. The Justice Department said in an official update in January 2024 that 116 of the people who have been charged in connection to the riot “have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.”

We may never get a complete inventory of the concealed weapons the rioters possessed on January 6, since nearly all of the rioters were able to leave the Capitol without being detained and searched, so it is possible that most rioters were unarmed. But it was always apparent from video footage that there were a variety of unconcealed weapons in the crowd that day — and it has been proven in court that at least some of the people who illegally entered Capitol grounds on January 6 were armed with guns.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

In its 2023 ruling disqualifying Trump from the Colorado ballot under the Constitution’s ban on insurrectionists holding office, the Colorado Supreme Court wrote: “Contrary to President Trump’s assertion that no evidence in the record showed that the mob was armed with deadly weapons or that it attacked law enforcement officers in a manner consistent with a violent insurrection, the district court found — and millions of people saw on live television, recordings of which were introduced into evidence in this case — that the mob was armed with a wide array of weapons.”
1:08 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Analysis: Justices could place Trump back on the ballot in Colorado

Derek Muller, an election law expert at Notre Dame Law School who filed a neutral brief that offered analysis of key legal questions, said after the hearing that the justices are likely to put Donald Trump back on the ballot in Colorado. 

“The justices seemed concerned that one state could affect the entire presidential election process, and that there needed to be some guidance from Congress before such an extraordinary measure could be taken,” Muller said. “The Court seemed inclined to let the political process play out.”

Muller – who hasn’t taken a position on Trump’s eligibility under the 14th Amendment – pointed out that several justices expressed unease with states implementing the ban without some sort of guidance from Congress. 

“It's not surprising to see the justices express discomfort with the proposition that the United States Supreme Court should wade into a factual and legal mire like this,” Muller said. “But it was somewhat surprising that there seemed to be consensus around the theory that states could not do this without congressional legislation." 

7:22 p.m. ET, February 8, 2024

Trump commends his lawyer's arguments at Supreme Court and says he hopes they are "well received"

Former President Donald Trump holds a press conference at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday in Palm Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump delivered remarks Thursday after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on his presidential ballot eligibility.

“I thought it was very— it’s a very beautiful process. I hope that democracy in this country will continue,” he said at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. “I thought the presentation today was a very good one. I think it was well received. I hope it was well received.”

Trump said he believes his status as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination should merit consideration by the Supreme Court when weighing Colorado’s decision to remove him from the ballot, while overstating his performance in polls against President Biden in a head-to-head rematch. 

“An argument that is very important is the fact that you're leading in every race. You're leading in every state. You're leading in the country against both Republican and Democrat and Biden. You're leading the country by a lot, and, 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,” he said.

Trump claimed the case is "more election interference by the Democrats."