Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) is garnering headlines and racking up appearances on cable news programs with her assertions the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution may provide a legal means to block former President Donald Trump from Michigan primary ballots.
Benson is attempting to convince other state attorneys general and secretaries of state to push for disqualifying Trump from state ballots, alleging his actions on January 6, 2021, were akin to encouraging insurrection. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, contains a clause – Section Three – intended to prevent former Confederates from seeking political offices.
“My commitment to following the law & the Constitution is resolute. And while there are serious legal arguments regarding candidate eligibility & the 14th Amendment, important questions remain that ultimately should & will be resolved by the US Supreme Court,” Benson wrote on Twitter.
Benson’s social media comments and statements to journalists have been contrasted with similar remarks by Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a fellow Democrat, who noted he’s bound to abide by his state’s Supreme Court, which determined only the state legislature could disqualify a candidate from a ballot. Texas Republican presidential candidate John Anthony Castro has filed a case to disqualify Trump from the New Hampshire primary ballot, citing the 14th Amendment.
PBS News Hour quoted Stanford University law professor Michael McConnell, who noted Section Three doesn’t explicitly include the presidential office in its list of barred public offices, nor is he convinced the January 6 activities can be legally determined an insurrection.
“It’s not just about Trump. Every election where someone says something supportive of a riot that interferes with the enforcement of laws, their opponents are going to run in and try to get them disqualified,” McConnell told PBS.
Ultimately, the decision of whether the 14th Amendment clause applies to barring Trump from state primary ballots may be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think you know I'm going to follow the law and I'm going to uphold the Constitution and I know and expect my colleagues around the country both secretaries of state and attorneys general to do the same, but we all are aware that and expect that the final say on this issue of eligibility both on the former president or any candidate will be decided as it typically is in the courts both at the state and federal level,” Benson told a CNN anchor. “So you may see some secretaries of state making that initial determination based on our view of the law or what the law allows us to do but no matter what determination is made it will ultimately be fully resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court we hope sooner rather than later to give us all clarity moving forward for this election cycle.”
Benson added she’s hopeful the Supreme Court renders a decision before Michigan prints its primary ballots. The state will conduct its primary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.