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Minnesota Supreme Court dismisses attempt to bar Trump from primary ballot

But the order signed by Chief Justice Natalie Hudson said the petitioners could try again if Trump wins the Republican nomination next summer.

Chief Justice Natalie Hudson
The order signed by Chief Justice Natalie Hudson said the petitioners could try again if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination next summer.
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Pool

The Minnesota Supreme Court has dismissed a petition that sought to keep Donald Trump’s name from appearing on the state’s March 5 presidential primary ballot.

The court order stated that because the primary is a party function in which the state serves only an administrative function, it is up to the parties only to decide the names on the ballot.

But the order signed by Chief Justice Natalie Hudson said the petitioners could try again if Trump wins the Republican nomination next summer. The November general election, being a state election only, might give the petitioners another opportunity to challenge Trump’s appearance on the ballot. But Trump would first have to win the nomination for the case to be ripe for court judgment.

“Because there is no error to correct here as to the presidential nomination primary, and petitioners’ other claims regarding the general election are not ripe, the petition must be dismissed, but without prejudice as to petitioners bringing a petition raising their claims as to the general election,” the order stated.

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A longer opinion will be issued later.

The order does not discuss petitioners’ underlying claim — that Trump’s action on and before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol amounts to insurrection and triggers Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. That section disqualifies from holding office again any official who took an oath to defend the Constitution and then engages in insurrection.

RELATED: Will First Amendment or 14th prevail in Trump ballot question?

And the court’s order, because it is based on state election law only, makes this case — Growe v. Simon — less likely to be one that would force the U.S. Supreme Court to make a sweeping ruling about Trump’s eligibility in all 50 states.

Separating the presidential primary from the general election in the way the order does was not discussed at length during last week’s oral arguments. The state Republican Party did state that its freedom of association rights under the First Amendment would be infringed if the state were to dictate who its candidates are. But Trump and the state party said their arguments against the petition applied to all elections and that Trump’s actions did not equate to insurrection.

The court order does agree that petitioners — a group of citizens including a former secretary of state and a former Supreme Court justice — have legal standing to bring the case. And the court says the issue is timely regarding the March 5 presidential primary. It disagrees, however, that including the general election in this challenge is timely.

“The Legislature enacted the presidential nomination primary process to allow major political parties to select delegates to the national conventions of those parties; at those conventions the selected delegates will cast votes along with delegates from all of the other states and territories and choose a presidential candidate who will subsequently appear on general election ballots,” the order states.

“ … although the Secretary of State and other election officials administer the mechanics of the election, this is an internal party election to serve internal party purposes, and winning the presidential nomination primary does not place the person on the general election ballot as a candidate for President of the United States,” the order stated.

“… there is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot, or sending delegates to the national convention supporting a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.”

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All of the filings in the case, including the order posted Wednesday, can be found here.

A Trump campaign spokesperson issued a response:

“Today’s decision in Minnesota, like New Hampshire before it, is further validation of the Trump Campaign’s consistent argument that the 14th Amendment ballot challenges are nothing more than strategic, un-Constitutional attempts to interfere with the election by desperate Democrats who see the writing on the wall: President Trump is dominating the polls and has never been in a stronger position to end the failed Biden presidency next November.”

State GOP Chair David Hann called Wednesday “a good day for democracy and the rule of law, as the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected attempts made by Democrat activists to circumvent and undermine the voice of voters in Minnesota elections.”

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People. “However, the Minnesota Supreme Court explicitly recognized that the question of Donald Trump’s disqualification for engaging in insurrection against the U.S. Constitution may be resolved at a later stage. The decision isn’t binding on any court outside Minnesota and we continue our current and planned legal actions in other states to enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment against Donald Trump.”

The petition was filed Sept. 12 by the national organization Free Speech for People along with attorneys with the Minnesota law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen. 

“Section 3 of the 14th Amendment protects the Republic from oath-breaking insurrectionists because its framers understood that if they are allowed back in power, they will do the same or worse,” Free Speech for People attorney Fein told the court Nov. 2.

RELATED: Dramatic day at the Supreme Court in 6 takeaways

Attorneys for Trump as well as his campaign and the state GOP argued that the issue was a political one, not a judicial one. As such it should be decided by Congress and the voters, not each state.

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“There is no more political question in our Constitutional order than who should be president,” said Trump attorney Nicholas Nelson. “It is for that reason that when parties ask the court to step into that process and decide who can and can’t be president, the courts overwhelmingly say that’s not a decision that should be made in the judiciary, it’s a decision that should be made elsewhere.”

Simon denied an administrative request to deny Trump ballot access, saying state law does not give him that power. He had said that he will follow the court’s direction but pleaded that it act soon — no later than Jan. 5 so local elections officials have time to prepare ballots for the March 5 presidential primary.

Under the state primary law, the political parties are empowered to submit the names of candidates that will then appear on state ballots. Simon has argued that his job is administrative only. But petitioners argue that all officials who have taken oaths to uphold the federal Constitution have a duty to act to meet its provisions.

Minnesota’s case is just one state court case  seeking to invoke the 14th Amendment. Testimony in a hearing in Colorado meant to gather facts about Trump’s actions on and before Jan. 6, 2021, concluded last week. Final arguments are set for Nov. 15 with a decision by a district court judge following those.

Free Speech for People has a similar action in Michigan.

All of the state cases are meant to force the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue and rule in a way that will cover the nation before presidential nominating caucuses and primaries begin. The first GOP event is the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15. Democrats begin their process Feb. 3 in South Carolina.

Minnesota is one of 16 states and American Samoa that will hold nominating events on March 5, Super Tuesday.