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Bipartisan Illinois election board dismisses 14th Amendment case against Trump

The Illinois State Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss a challenge to former President Donald Trump’s candidacy, but the decision is not expected to be the final word in the matter, with an appeal all but assured.

The panel voted 8-0 on a bipartisan basis to dismiss the challenge, finding that it didn’t have jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute involving the 14th Amendment.

The decision can be appealed in state courts, where judges could potentially remove Trump from the ballot based on the “insurrectionist ban” that was ratified after the Civil War. The legal advocacy group behind the challenge, Free Speech For People, said in a statement that it would “immediately appeal and expect the issues to be resolved in their favor by the Illinois courts.”

The election panel accepted a recommendation from retired Judge Clark Erickson, who presided over an evidentiary hearing last week and concluded that the board isn’t legally empowered to undertake a complex constitutional analysis of Trump’s potential culpability in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

However, Erickson, a Republican, also concluded that, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, Trump did engage in the January 6 insurrection and the 14th Amendment would apply to him. He said state courts – which have more power than the election board – should decide Trump’s eligibility.

During the roll-call vote, board member Catherine McCrory, a Republican, made a forceful statement against Trump, blaming him for the insurrection but saying the panel didn’t have the authority to remove him from the ballot.

“This Republican believes there was an insurrection on January 6,” McCrory said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he manipulated, instigated, aided and abetted an insurrection on January 6. However, having said that, it is not my place to rule on that today. So, I will say ‘yes’ to the motion as far as not having jurisdiction to rule on that fact today.”

Matthew Piers, a lawyer for the anti-Trump challengers, had urged the panel to bar Trump from the ballot earlier during the meeting. “He took a leading role in organizing, facilitating, supporting, directing and protecting a concerted, armed and violent invasion, seizure, and disruption of the United States Congress on January 6th, as the members of that body were gathering to fulfill their constitutional duty of certifying the electoral votes,” Piers said.

Trump attorney Adam Merrill, however, urged the state board to keep Trump on the 2024 ballot, pushing back against the findings from Erickson.

“Mr. Trump did not engage in an insurrection, as that term is used in the Constitution,” Merrill said, later adding that “no Illinois court has ever suggested that the board has this authority” to disqualify him based on the 14th Amendment.

Several Illinois voters filed the challenge against Trump, arguing that the state should join Colorado and Maine in removing him from their 2024 presidential ballots. The decisions in those other states were paused pending the outcome of Trump’s appeal of the Colorado case to the US Supreme Court.

Similar lawsuits have been dismissed on procedural grounds in Michigan, Minnesota and other states. Trump has decried the cases as an abuse of the legal system by partisans who can’t beat him at the polls.

Trump posted a message on social media after the vote, thanking the board members for “protecting the Citizens of our Country.”

Panel also kills Biden challenge

The board also unanimously voted to dismiss a challenge to President Joe Biden, rebuffing a GOP attempt to use the 14th Amendment to strip him from the ballot based on arguments that the border crisis amounts to an “insurrection.”

This is the first time this anti-Biden gambit has been tested before an election authority. Legal experts have panned the move as a meritless stunt.

A group of conservative activists filed the Illinois case against Biden earlier this month, hoping to use the same constitutional provision that Trump’s critics are deploying to remove him from the ballot. The conservative challengers claimed Biden “provided aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States” by failing to secure the US-Mexico border.

Some Republican officials have publicly embraced the idea of using the 14th Amendment to retaliate against Biden. This includes Missouri’s secretary of state and Texas’ lieutenant governor, though they weren’t involved in the Illinois case.

The Illinois election board’s general counsel, Marni Malowitz, concluded that the arguments against Biden were “obviously devoid of legal and factual validity.” David Herman, who was previously appointed by the panel to review the matter, similarly concluded that the case was baseless.

“Objectors cite no caselaw to support their position that a disagreement with the immigration policies of a sitting president or dissatisfaction with his performance while in office is a basis for preventing him to be placed on the ballot under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Herman wrote in a written recommendation before Tuesday’s meeting.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the vote tally by the Illinois State Board of Elections. It has also been updated with additional details and reaction.

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