Campaign To Disqualify Trump Will Soon Get Court Hearing as Adversary Seeks To Make Him ‘Go Begging’ to Supreme Court

A long-shot constitutional theory seeks to block the 45th president’s bid for a second term.

AP/Artie Walker Jr.
President Trump leaves after speaking at the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala at Columbia, South Carolina, August 5, 2023. AP/Artie Walker Jr.

The gathering effort to disqualify President Trump from the presidency on the basis of Section Three of the 14th Amendment will soon receive a hearing in federal court, the first step toward a possible barring of the 45th president from office. 

The hearing, scheduled for October 23 in Arizona, stems from a challenge — one of many — to Mr. Trump by a long-shot candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, John Anthony Castro. A tax consultant by trade, Mr. Castro has made disqualifying Mr. Trump from office the centerpiece of his candidacy. 

The New York Sun spoke with Mr. Castro, who disclosed that this legal strategy was “always planned.” He explained that he hopes to extend the proceedings past the deadline for Mr. Trump to appear on the ballot, adding that “we can drag this baby out for nine months if we want.” He envisions that Mr. Trump will have to “go begging to the Supreme Court” for relief.      

Judge Douglas Rey, a district court judge in Arizona, has requested additional briefing on the question of Mr. Trump’s eligibility in advance of next month’s hearing. Mr. Castro has asked for a preliminary injunction to block Arizona’s secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, from listing Mr. Trump on the Grand Canyon State’s ballot. 

Section Three of the 14th Amendment bars any officeholders who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or anyone who has “given aid or comfort to the enemies” of America from holding future office. A debate has broken out among legal sages over whether the clause, passed after the Civil War, is a force or a fossil.

There have been no insurrection charges brought in respect of January 6, 2021, save for one — that which the House of Representatives brought against Mr. Trump in the Senate. It tried Mr. Trump in 2021 and discovered that he was “not guilty.”

Mr. Castro’s complaint, nonetheless, seeks to make the case that Mr. Trump’s actions make him ineligible for office. He claims “standing,” or the ability to bring suit, because he is “directly and currently” competing with Mr. Trump for his party’s nomination. This means that the former president’s place on the ballot would harm Mr. Castro’s political chances, amounting to, he claims, a “concrete competitive injury.” 

The complaint contends that evidence for Mr. Trump’s disqualification can be adduced from the “executive military order” issued to a “paramilitary organization known as the Proud Boys.” The reference is to a remark Mr. Trump made during a debate with President Biden — “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” He later allowed, “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are.”

Mr. Castro also notes comments Mr. Trump made on television on January 6, after the Capitol had been breached. The former president told the rioters, “You are very special, we love you.” The request for an injunction also cites Mr. Trump’s promise for pardons to some January 6 defendants. This is claimed in Mr. Castro’s suit to be a form of “comfort” to America’s “enemies.” 

Mr. Castro points to the conviction of the chairman of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, for seditious conspiracy, and argues that “sedition and insurrection are synonymous terms.” They are, however, separate crimes. Mr. Trump has been charged with neither, and was acquitted of incitement to insurrection during his second impeachment.

Arizona is not the only place where efforts to disqualify Mr. Trump appear to be gaining steam. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed suit in Colorado to block him from the ballot in the Centennial State. CREW has already been successful in disqualifying a county commissioner in New Mexico, Couy Griffin.

The state court judge overseeing that suit, Sarah Wallace, said in a hearing on Monday, “I see my job here, at least in part, as getting this to the Colorado Supreme Court, assuming it proceeds forward. And I think I need to get them a ruling by Thanksgiving.” Colorado’s secretary of state, Jena Griswold, has insisted on a “hard deadline” of January 5 for the case to be settled. Colorado’s Republican primary will be held on March 5.

Mr. Castro and others are also mounting challenges to Mr. Trump in New Hampshire. The secretary of state there, David Scanlan, has announced that he  “will be conferring with the New Hampshire Attorney General and other legal counsel” with respect to disqualification, though he maintains that “any action taken under this Constitutional provision will have to be based on judicial guidance.”

Free Speech for People kicked off the disqualification rush last year by mounting challenges to two lawmakers, Representatives Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ms. Greene defeated that challenge, and Mr. Cawthorn’s was rendered moot when he was defeated at the ballot box. 

Free Speech for People’s legal director, Ronald Fein, tells the Sun that his group is employing “public and private efforts” to urge state secretaries of state to “apply their own authority to exclude” Mr. Trump from the ballot as an “ineligible candidate.” Last week, the group filed a lawsuit in the Minnesota supreme court to block Mr. Trump from the ballot.

The New York Sun

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