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Trump attorney says eligibility to serve not an issue until after election

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Gage Skidmore
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

A Michigan Court of Claims judge heard competing arguments Thursday on whether former President Donald Trump should be allowed to appear next year on the statewide ballot.

A group of voters argues Trump is not eligible under the insurrection clause of the U.S. Constitution due to actions surrounding the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“The state has a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity and practical functioning of its political process and it is allowed to exclude from the ballot presidential candidates who are constitutionally prohibited from assuming office,” argued plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Brewer. He said many Republicans may want Trump on the ballot, “…but they have no right to dragoon, to commandeer the state election process and put ineligible candidates on the ballot, and that’s the issue here.”

The voters are suing Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to block Trump from the primary and November ballots. Benson, a Democrat, says she does not have the authority to keep Trump off the ballot unless a judge orders otherwise.

Trump is not a direct party to the case. But an attorney representing the former president was allowed to argue before the judge.

Michael Columbo said keeping Trump off the Michigan ballot would create uncertainty that would be unfair to voters across the country.

“The answer that we land upon cannot be one that causes a crisis or wreaks havoc in a national federal election and that’s an important distinction when you’re talking about a presidential candidate,” he said.

Columbo argued there is no question under the Constitution that Trump is eligible to run. He said the question is whether Trump is eligible to serve. He said that question would not activate until and unless Trump wins the November election. And he said the arbiter should be Congress, not the courts.

But the judiciary is where the question sits for now.

A decision from Court of Claims JudgeJames Redford is expected as soon as next week and will almost certainly be appealed.

“I fully recognize I am not the last word on whatever happens in this case,” he said.

There are similar challenges underway in other states.

The Minnesota Supreme Court this week rejected an effort to block Trump from the primary ballot but left the door open to hearing a challenge if Trump becomes the GOP nominee. Closing arguments are scheduled for next week in a Denver courtroom in a case that seeks to keep Trump off the Colorado ballot.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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