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A breakdown of the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling on Trump

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More now on the Colorado Supreme Court ruling yesterday that Donald Trump should be excluded from that state's presidential primary because he was deemed by the court to have engaged in insurrection. It's a huge development looking ahead at the 2024 election. It is probably not the final word on the issue because the U.S. Supreme Court will likely have a say. Joining me now in the studio is NPR voting correspondent Miles Parks. Hey, Miles. Good to see you.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, there.

KELLY: Hey. So big headline - Trump has been ruled ineligible in Colorado due to his actions around January 6. What is the legal argument?

PARKS: So this all really hinges on how you read Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This law dates to just after the Civil War, and it says you can't hold public office in the United States if you're, quote - if you've been deemed to, quote, "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the state or given aid or comfort to those that have," which is where you immediately get into murky legal territory because Trump has not been convicted of any of his actions related to the 2020 election. But the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that those actions, trying to overturn that election, were sufficient to have considered to have participated in insurrection. Here's David Becker. He's a former Justice Department lawyer who runs the Center for Election Innovation & Research.

DAVID BECKER: It's important to note that the 14th Amendment does not say, as it could, convicted of insurrection. It doesn't say that. It says engaged in insurrection.

PARKS: Now, Trump is expected to appeal this ruling. And most legal scholars expect the U.S. Supreme Court to have the final say here.

KELLY: Right. But I'm thinking about the timeline here.

PARKS: (Laughter).

KELLY: It is December. The first nominating contests in the Republican primary are next month, January. So how does this affect the political calendar?

PARKS: Well, first off, the Colorado Supreme Court in its ruling said that if this goes to the U.S. Supreme Court then its decision will not go into effect until that's resolved. So it's very possible Trump still ends up on Colorado primary ballots. But the bigger question here could affect everyone across the country. It affects the Republican Party, which is trying to parse out whether its candidate is going to be able to appear on general election ballots in November. And it affects election officials, who obviously need weeks to prepare and print out ballots. Generally, everyone in the elections world just wants the Supreme Court to rule on this as soon as possible. I talked about that with Guy-Uriel Charles, who's an election law expert at Harvard Law School.

GUY-URIEL CHARLES: The 2024 election is going to be hard enough as it is. So the sooner we know what the fundamental rules are, the better off that we're going to be. It's critical for the court to resolve this as soon as it possibly can.

KELLY: Miles, what about voters? We know that - this is per polling. A lot of voters, including a lot of Republicans, still think the 2020 election was stolen. We've said it before, we'll say it again, it was not stolen. But do we know how voters feel about this, about whether Trump should be able to run?

PARKS: There is some data on this, the best we have probably from a Politico/Morning Consult poll that was conducted earlier this fall. It asked voters different questions about the 14th Amendment and Trump's - whether it should disqualify Trump. Half of all voters think Trump should be disqualified. And my colleague Lucas Brady Woods of KUNC spoke to one of those voters, David Hitchcock, who's an independent from Fort Collins, Colo. And he said this about Trump.

DAVID HITCHCOCK: He partook in an insurrection and basically wants to get back into the government to become king. That's extremely dangerous to democracy.

PARKS: As you might imagine, this is pretty starkly divided along partisan lines. Only something like 1-in-6 Trump voters think Trump should be disqualified. But when you talk to election experts, they're really worried about that portion of the population, the population that generally thinks the system is rigged against Trump. You know, removing him from the ballot will obviously add fuel to that fire, which then presents the very real possibility of - whether it's unrest or potentially violence, like we saw three years ago.

KELLY: And real quick, reaction from the rest of the political world?

PARKS: So President Biden said he did think that Trump did take part in insurrection but that the courts should decide this issue. On the Republican side, everyone in the Republican Party running against Trump basically came out against this decision and said voters should decide this.

KELLY: NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks
Miles Parks is a correspondent on NPR's Washington Desk, where he covers voting and election security.