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Maine judge delays decision on removing Trump from ballot until Colorado case

Jan 17, 2024, 2:54 PM | Updated: 2:56 pm

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday Dec. 16, 2023, in Durham, ...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday Dec. 16, 2023, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Reba Saldanha, File)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine judge on Wednesday put on hold a decision on former President Donald Trump’s ballot status to allow time for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a similar case in Colorado.

Trump’s lawyers appealed in state court when Secretary of State Shenna Bellows removed the Republican front-runner from the presidential primary ballot but then asked the judge to pause proceedings to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the Colorado case, which could render the lawsuit moot.

Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy concluded she lacked authority to stay the judicial proceedings but she wrote that she did have authority to send the case back to the secretary of state with instructions to await the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court case before withdrawing, modifying or upholding her original decision.

In her decision, the judge said that the issues raised in the Maine case mirror the issues raised in the Colorado case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She wrote that her decision “minimizes any potentially destabilizing effect of inconsistent decisions and will promote greater predictability in the weeks ahead of the primary election.”

“Put simply, the United State Supreme Court’s acceptance of the Colorado case changes everything,” she wrote.

The Supreme Court will decide if Trump can be kept off 2024 presidential ballots

Bellows concluded last month that Trump didn’t meet ballot qualifications under the insurrection clause in the U.S. Constitution, citing his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. She became the first election official to ban Trump from the ballot under the 14th Amendment. Trump contended Bellows was biased and overstepped her authority.

The nation’s highest court has never ruled on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office. Some legal scholars say the post-Civil War clause applies to Trump for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and encouraging his backers to storm the U.S. Capitol after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Activists conducted a campaign urging election officials to bar Trump under the clause.

Bellows, a Democrat, was reviewing the judge’s decision Wednesday and had no immediate comment, her spokesperson said. Bellows already had delayed implementation of her decision pending the outcome of the court cases. She had said she would follow the rule of law and abide by any legal decision.

She made her ruling a week after Colorado became the first state to bar Trump from the ballot, although the decision in that state, too, has been paused pending the outcome of its appeal in the nation’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court scheduled arguments for Feb. 8.

Trump, who won the Iowa caucuses on Monday, remains on the Maine ballot for the March 5 primary for now, given a Saturday deadline for sending overseas ballots. If the U.S. Supreme Court allows Trump to be kept off the ballot, then Bellows would have to notify local election officials that votes cast for him would not be counted.

Maine has just four electoral votes, but it’s one of two states to split them. Trump earned one of Maine’s electors when he was elected in 2016 and again in 2020 when he lost reelection.

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Maine judge delays decision on removing Trump from ballot until Colorado case