A nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit, on behalf of six Colorado residents, alleging that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from holding future office — including the presidency, which he is currently pursuing — due to his involvement in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced the lawsuit on Wednesday, citing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars any former officeholder who “previously [took] an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States” from being able to hold any office again if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or have “given aid or comfort” to those who have.
“On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump stood before the nation and took an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ After losing the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump violated that oath by recruiting, inciting and encouraging a violent mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021 in a futile attempt to remain in office,” CREW said.
Notably, the 14th Amendment does not lay out the exact process for how a person can be disqualified from office. CREW, however, believes that a judicial order is sufficient enough, and cited the disqualification of Couy Griffin, a county commissioner who was involved in the January 6 attack, and who CREW successfully sued to have deemed unfit for office one year ago.
That action was the first time since 1869 that the Disqualification Clause of the Constitution was used against a person for their involvement in an insurrection.
CREW president Noah Bookbinder elaborated on the need to find Trump, who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race he lost to President Joe Biden, disqualified from pursuing any office.
“If the very fabric of our democracy is to hold, we must ensure that the Constitution is enforced and the same people who attacked our democratic system not be put in charge of it,” Bookbinder said.
We aren’t bringing this case to make a point, we’re bringing it because it is necessary to defend our republic both today and in the future. While it is unprecedented to bring this type of case against a former president, January 6th was an unprecedented attack that is exactly the kind of event the framers of the 14th Amendment wanted to build protections in case of. You don’t break the glass unless there’s an emergency.
The lawsuit itself involves six individuals from Colorado, all of whom are eligible voters. Four of those involved identify themselves as Republicans, while two say they are independents. Perhaps in anticipation of Trump and his allies crying foul over the lawsuit being a partisan action, none of the litigants identify as supporters of the Democratic Party.
The suit claims that Trump’s actions leading up to January 6 — including a December 19 tweet promising a “wild time” in Washington D.C. on that date — suggest he was aware of the potential for violence. Trump’s rhetoric during a “Stop the Steal” speech is also cited, deemed by CREW as inciting the breach of the Capitol as Congress was certifying the Electoral College results.
“We can’t let this stuff happen. We won’t have a country if it happens,” Trump said at one point during the speech.
“We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump also said.
After riling up his loyalists with false claims of election fraud, Trump urged them to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give “weak” Republicans the “boldness that they need to take back our country,” the lawsuit also noted.
The suit also showcases how Trump sought to “exploit” the violence at the Capitol, using it as an opportunity to urge wayward legislators to back his plan to overturn the election using fake electors his campaign had set up. And how he tried to justify his loyalists’ actions to then-House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) by falsely describing it as a reaction to “election theft” that Congress shouldn’t deal with.
Trump’s initial refusal to respond to the violence for several hours after it began also “materially aided the insurrection and furthered the insurrectionists’ goal of disrupting the lawful transfer of presidential power,” the suit contended.
In a statement CREW made on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, the group said it selected Colorado as a place to block Trump’s access to the ballot because of “its laws, the calendar, and our courageous set of plaintiffs and witnesses.” The organization also said that “it will not be the last” state where a complaint will be raised, foreshadowing future lawsuits in other states that will likely come about.
A spokesperson for Trump dismissed the lawsuit as an “absurd conspiracy theory and political attack” on the former president. “There is no legal basis for this effort except in the minds of those who are pushing it,” the spokesperson, Steven Cheung, added.
Trump himself spent much of the Labor Day weekend on his social media site Truth Social belittling efforts to use the 14th Amendment to disqualify him from the presidency, calling it a “trick” being used by “the Radical Left Communists, Marxists, and Fascists” to steal the 2024 election, even though it’s clearly part of the U.S. Constitution and has been used successfully in the past.
Several legal academics also view the lawsuit as a legitimate means to prevent Trump from entering the White House as president again. Even conservatives, such as University of Chicago law professor William Baude, a member of the Federalist Society, have said that Trump could be disqualified under the amendment.
“The people who wrote the 14th Amendment were not fools,” frequent Trump critic and Harvard Law school professor Laurence Tribe said last month, speaking to CNN on the subject. “They realized that if those people who tried to overturn the country, who tried to get rid of our peaceful transitions of power are again put in power, that would be the end of the nation, the end of democracy.”
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