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Mainers challenge Donald Trump’s election eligibility


Mainers challenge Donald Trump’s election eligibility

Dec 11, 2023 | 5:03 pm ET
By Emma Davis
Mainers challenge Donald Trump’s election eligibility
Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 4, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Mainers are challenging former President Donald Trump’s primary election eligibility. 

Two challenges filed with the state claim Trump action’s in relation to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol bar him from taking office again. One challenge takes an alternate approach: Since Trump maintains he won re-election in 2020, he is ineligible to seek a third term as president.

The Maine Secretary of State’s office received three challenges to block Trump’s participation in the state’s Republican primary on March 5, after announcing the candidates on Dec. 2

A consolidated hearing on the three challenges is set for Friday. 

The challenges 

Both challenges to Trump’s election eligibility focus on constitutional violations. 

Lawyer Paul Gordon filed a challenge with the state based on the 22nd Amendment, which reads, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” Gordon wrote in his challenge that because Trump maintains that he won the 2020 election — a claim that has been widely disproven — he is ineligible to seek reelection because he has reached his two-term limit.

“When a candidate makes a factual representation that disqualifies him from the office he seeks, he cannot appear on the ballot,” Gordon wrote. “However, Mr. Trump may be able to remove this obstacle of his own creation. If he were to submit a letter worn under penalty of perjury acknowledging that he lost the 2020 election and repudiating all previous statements undermining the integrity of that election, the question of the 22nd Amendment would no longer be relevant.” 

The other two challenges invoke reasoning that has been cited in challenges to Trump’s eligibility in other states involving the 14th Amendment. 

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits anyone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office in the United States. 

One of the challenges citing the 14th Amendment violation came from former elected officials in Maine: former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling (a Democrat) and former state Sens. Kimberley Rosen and Thomas Saviello (Republicans). The other challenge based on the 14th Amendment came from Winterport resident Mary Ann Royal.

This argument has been used in challenges to Trump’s ballot eligibility in other states, including Colorado. Colorado is awaiting a ruling from its state Supreme Court but in November a district court judge ruled “Trump incited an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 and therefore ‘engaged’ in insurrection within the meaning of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.”

However, the judge ultimately sided with a legal theory put forward by conservative scholars and cited by Trump’s attorneys that Section 3’s reference to individuals who have “taken an oath” as an officer of the U.S. does not include the presidency, as reported by Maine Morning Star’s sister site Colorado Newsline. Gerard Magliocca, a scholar of 19th-century constitutional law called to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs, argued that the position is “so far in the minority” among academics who have studied the question. 

The 14th Amendment “insurrection” clause has been enforced only a handful of times since being ratified in 1868 — with at least one court using it explicitly in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Last year, a New Mexico court cited it in ruling to remove a Republican county commissioner from office who had participated in the attack on the Capitol.

The hearing 

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows will serve as the presiding officer for the hearing on these three challenges on Dec. 15 and will rule on the validity of the challenges by Dec. 22.

During the hearing, which will occur at 10 a.m. in room 228 of the Maine State House, the challengers must provide “sufficient evidence” in order to invalidate the petition. The challengers and Trump will have the opportunity to present oral testimony of witnesses, add documentary evidence and make oral arguments in light of that evidence.  

Once Bellows’ ruling is handed down, challengers or Trump can also appeal the decision to the Superior Court, whose decision can then be appealed to the Law Court.