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Supreme Court unanimously restores Trump to the Colorado primary ballot

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Supreme Court just ruled that Donald Trump cannot be removed from the Colorado primary ballot. The unanimous decision by the justices reverses a decision out of Colorado to remove the former president for actions related to the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol by rioters seeking to stop the routine confirmation of the 2020 election results. Six Colorado voters had argued that Trump had run afoul of a post-Civil War law that bars people who have sworn to uphold the Constitution from engaging in insurrection or rebellion. The justices said that states don't have the right to determine whether a presidential candidate is ineligible under that provision of the constitution. We have UCLA law professor and election law expert Rick Hasen with us now to tell us more about this decision. Good morning, Rick.

RICK HASEN: Good morning.

MARTIN: So if you heard the oral arguments a couple of weeks ago, it's pretty - it seemed pretty clear the direction the justices would go in. So just tell us what they said and what else they had to say about the other cases before them.

HASEN: Yeah, you're right that it was clear from a few weeks ago that the court was not going to side with Colorado. The real question was how they were going to do it. And in the part of the opinion that is unanimous, the Supreme Court said that states can't disqualify federal officeholders. They can disqualify state officeholders. So if someone's an insurrectionist running for governor, they - there could be a procedure to remove them but not for Congress. But they divided over what Congress can do if it wants to try to disqualify Donald Trump or anyone else.

MARTIN: What did they say about that?

HASEN: So this is where the court divided. There were at least five justices who took the view that Congress has limited power. It has to pass particular legislation in order to enforce this part of the Constitution. And that legislation has to be congruent and proportional to the constitutional violations. And this is a standard that the Supreme Court has used in other cases to limit Congress' power. There were three justices - the three liberal justices, Sotomayor, Kagan and Jackson - who objected to even discussing this issue. And Justice Barrett, for herself, wrote separately and also expressed some concern about the court going down the road and giving more of this guidance as to what the scope of Congress' power is, which was not directly at issue in this case at all.

MARTIN: So how should we interpret this? I mean, it seem - so on the one hand, a unanimous decision on the basic issue, whether the former president can be on the Colorado primary ballot. They all agreed that he can be and should be. But this disagreement elsewhere - what does that mean?

HASEN: Well, it puts the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of this question. If, for example - let's say that it's Trump versus Biden, and Trump appears to win. And the Electoral College votes are being counted on January 6, 2025, and Congress says, sorry, we can't count votes for Donald Trump 'cause he's an insurrectionist. The Supreme Court would have - be in a position to review whether or not Congress properly made that determination. And so this decision not only benefits Donald Trump. It also benefits kind of the Supreme Court being the ultimate decider on these questions of disqualification.

MARTIN: Just to be clear here, this specific case was related to the Colorado case that was brought, as we said, by these six voters. Does this mean that all their - there are several other cases challenging Trump's place on the ballot for similar reasons, if not exactly the same. Does this void all of those other cases?

HASEN: Yeah. In fact, last week, an Illinois judge said that Trump was disqualified. All those cases are going to get reversed. Trump's going to be on the ballot in every state. There's no question about that. The only question is about what Congress might do to potentially disqualify Trump or any other federal officeholder.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, as briefly as you can, the tenor of the disagreement among the justices, even on these sort of technical questions - how do you read that?

HASEN: Well, the three liberal justices were very upset. Justice Barrett separately tried to cool things, saying this is a, you know, big national moment of tension. I - you know, this is not the last case that the court's going to hear about Donald Trump and the election, so buckle up.

MARTIN: That is UCLA law professor and election law expert Rick Hasen. Professor Hasen, thanks so much for joining us.

HASEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.