A federal district court in Rhode Island on Monday rejected a bid to disqualify former President Donald Trump from candidacy in the 2024 presidential elections, citing an earlier ruling by an appeals court that rejected a similar claim.
Chief Judge John J. McConnell of the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island on Monday summarily dismissed a complaint by John Anthony Castro, a lesser-known Republican presidential candidate from Texas, who sought to disqualify President Trump from the ballot.
That marked another defeat for Mr. Castro, who has filed lawsuits in more than two dozen states over the past few months, including the one in Rhode Island that was dismissed today, to disqualify Trump from the ballot for the 2024 presidential election.
Mr. Castro has argued in his filings that President Trump engaged in insurrection against the United States by virtue of his actions and words related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach, and must be disqualified from holding federal office by Section Three of the 14th Amendment. The Section Three provision bars officials who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office, and, around its passage in the 19th century, pertained to members of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
In recent months, courts in Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Michigan have dismissed his claims, mostly for procedural or jurisdictional reasons, such as a lack of standing or the courts’ refraining from ruling on a political question.
Judge McConnell’s Monday ruling followed a Nov. 21 ruling (pdf) on the same matter (also brought by Mr. Castro) by a higher court, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The appeals court has appellate jurisdiction over the Rhode Island District Court, so its rulings are binding on the lower court.
In that earlier ruling, the appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling and rejected Mr. Castro’s bid to remove President Trump from the New Hampshire ballot for the 2024 presidential election. The judges reasoned that Mr. Castro failed to show that he suffered “injury in fact”—a required component for bringing the case under Section Three—by Trump’s candidacy, because Mr. Castro’s claim that his votes would be taken away during the 2024 election (should President Trump run) is “too speculative” as of the time Mr. Castro filed his complaint.
The appeals court also affirmed the lower court’s reasoning that the case is a political subject that falls out of the types of matters that a court can adjudicate, but did not elaborate on this point.
President Trump’s spokesperson, Steven Cheung, touted Monday’s ruling as a victory for the former president’s campaign.
“Earlier today, a federal judge in Rhode Island dismissed yet another frivolous 14th Amendment challenge to President Trump’s ballot eligibility in 2024,” Mr. Cheung wrote in a statement on President Trump’s campaign website.
“The American People have the unassailable right to vote for the candidate of their choosing at the ballot box, something the Democrats and their allies driving these cases clearly disagree with. President Trump believes the American voters, not the courts, should decide who wins next year’s elections and we urge a swift dismissal of all such remaining bogus ballot challenges.”
Mr. Castro did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday.
Legal Scholars Diverge
Legal scholars have disagreed on whether President Trump, the front-running Republican presidential candidate, should be disqualified from running by Section Three.
In August, two scholars associated with the Federalist Society, William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen, argued in a paper that Section Three “disqualifies former President Donald Trump, and potentially many others, because of their participation in the attempted overthrow of the 2020 presidential election.”
Alan Dershowitz, who taught at Harvard Law School for nearly five decades, interpreted the provision differently in an article published in the Compact Magazine in August.
“A fair reading of the text and history of the 14th Amendment makes it relatively clear, however, that the disability provision was intended to apply to those who served the Confederacy during the Civil War,” Mr. Dershowitz wrote, echoing his comments to The Epoch Times earlier this year that “the only way [Trump] can be disqualified is if they can prove that he actually fought in the Civil War for the South.”
Andrew Gould, a former judge at the Arizona Supreme Court, predicted in an interview with The Epoch Times earlier this year that the disqualification issue would likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In October, the country’s highest court already rejected an appeal by Mr. Castro without a recorded vote or rationale, which arose from Mr. Castro’s failed disqualification case against Trump in Florida.
The Colorado Lawsuit
Courts from around the country, citing jurisdictional issues, have generally refrained from commenting on the merits of Mr. Castro’s disqualification case against President Trump; that is with the exception of a court in Colorado, where District Judge Sarah B. Wallace wrote that President Trump, despite having “engaged in insurrection,” still should not be disqualified because his prior role as president falls out of the scope of Section Three of the 14th amendment.
Judge Wallace’s opinion prompted both Mr. Castro and President Trump to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court—for separate reasons. President Trump’s lawyers took issue with Judge Wallace’s interpretation that the former President had engaged in insurrection, while Mr. Castro disagreed with her ruling that Section Three does not apply to President Trump.
The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to take up the case and has scheduled oral arguments for Dec. 6.