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  • Emily Rotondi

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Denies Challenge to Remove Trump's Name from Massachusetts Primary

Courtesy of George Skidmore

On January 29, a single Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice rejected an emergency petition seeking to remove Trump's name from the upcoming Massachusetts primary.

As the 2024 election approaches, some are pushing for Trump's name to be erased from the Republican party's primary ballots, citing his role in inciting the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as reasoning. Massachusetts is one of the most recent states considering such action, yet the courts have been unsupportive to the prosecutors' plea.

A bipartisan emergency appeal was filed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in Massachusetts. The group included former Boston Mayor, Kim Janey, and the group Free Speech for People. They argued that Trump's involvement in the January 6 coup violated the constitutional clause barring anyone who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" from holding public office. PBS simplified their argument into one simple sentence, “Jan.6 was an insurrection, Trump incited it, and he’s disqualified.” 

In contrast, Trump's legal team has advanced several arguments in favor of retaining Trump on the ballot. They assert that the events of January 6th do not qualify as an insurrection but rather a riot, emphasizing Trump's exercise of free speech. Additionally, they contend that the determination of Trump's eligibility for the presidency is a political matter best left to voters rather than the legal system. Lastly, they challenge the interpretation of the clause being used to support the removal of Trump's name, arguing that it lacks clarity on the specific meaning of "office of the United States," leaving uncertainty about whether it pertains to the president's office.

To the relief of Trump and his legal team, Justice Frank Gaziano promptly denied the petition less than a week after it was filed. Gaziano reasoned that the question of Trump's eligibility would only “become ripe until, and if, he is selected as his party's nominee for President,” deeming the objections premature for ruling at that time. 

This decision from Justice Frank Gaziano followed a similar rejection by the Massachusetts State Ballot Commission, an independent and bipartisan panel chaired by a Republican appointee. They also dismissed a comparable request, asserting that the challenge fell beyond their jurisdiction to rule on. Trump's legal team has previously achieved success in similar cases in Michigan and Minnesota.

Responding to the denial, State GOP Chair Amy Carnevale applauded the ruling as the “right decision,” emphasizing that the decision as to who the nominee of the Republican Party should lie with the voters in Massachusetts.However, this line of reasoning raises concerns for the presidency, as it begs the question, if inciting an insurrection does not make you unworthy to be president, what rises to the level of qualification?

In contrast, attorney Shannon Liss Riordan, a US senator and former candidate for Massachusetts attorney general, believes that Trump's candidacy “violates the Constitution.” While some Democrats view the effort to remove Trump as safeguarding democracy, Trump's campaign spokesman dismisses it as a "hoax" and a ploy by "Biden Democrats" to interfere with the election, potentially disenfranchising millions of American voters.

However, Democrats are also concerned that any attempt to remove Trump from the ballot could potentially harm Biden and other Democrats in their fall elections. Steve Hobbs, Washington Secretary of State, expresses worry that such an action might further erode Americans' faith in our electoral system. "Removing him from the ballot would, at face value, seem very anti-democratic... But so is attempting to overthrow your own country." Additionally, former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie cautions that removing Trump could inadvertently turn him into a martyr, "While some may argue there's justification for such a move, it's not conducive to a healthy democracy. Ultimately, Donald Trump should be defeated by the voters at the polls," he emphasized.

Regardless, the petitioners plan to appeal the latest decision to the full Massachusetts Supreme Court. However, the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue their ruling on whether Trump's name can remain on the ballot before the March 5 primaries, which could resolve the Massachusetts dispute. Despite the court's ideological divide, it seems likely that they will rule against removing him. Justice Elena Kagan posed this question at the hearing related to determining Trump’s eligibility: “Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination, not only for their own citizens, but for the rest of the nation?” But for now, Trump's name will remain on the Massachusetts ballot.  

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