Several voters filed the challenge against Trump, arguing that Illinois should join Colorado and Maine in removing him from their 2024 presidential ballots based on his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. The decisions in those states were paused pending the outcome of Trump’s appeal of the Colorado case to the US Supreme Court.
Retired Illinois judge Clark Erickson presided over the roughly two-hour hearing in Chicago on Friday. His recommendation is expected to be announced on Tuesday when the full election board meets. The panel will then vote on the recommendation.
An attorney for the challengers, Matthew Piers, asserted that Trump filed “false” paperwork with Illinois election officials when he certified that he was “fully qualified to serve as president.” As a result, Piers argued, Trump “may not be placed on the ballot.”
Piers played harrowing video footage from the assault on the US Capitol, and pointed out that Trump has “repeatedly failed to denounce what happened on January 6 and has recently referred to persons convicted of criminal misconduct on that day as ‘hostages.’”
“What binds us all, in this profession, is the respect for the rule of law,” Piers told the judge at the end of his arguments. “If we lose that, we all might as well find something else to do, or maybe another country to live in. That is what is at the center of this case.”
Trump lawyer Scott Gessler, who defended him in the Colorado case, reiterated many of the defenses that were used to beat back similar cases across the country. Lawsuits have been dismissed on procedural grounds in Michigan, Minnesota and other states.
Gessler, a former Colorado secretary of state, argued that the insurrectionist ban doesn’t apply to the presidency, that “there was no engagement by President Trump in any violence” and that the deadly events of January 6 didn’t amount to an insurrection. He also raised due process concerns.
“We are a country of rule of law, and we are a country of democracy,” Gessler said, accusing the challengers of “using highly spurious legal theories … to drive home a political point and to prevent President Trump from being able to appear on the ballot.”
Erickson, the judge, is a Republican and served on the Kankakee County Circuit Court for 25 years, until his retirement in 2020. He was appointed in 1995, elected to a full term on the GOP ticket in 1996, and won retention elections in 2002, 2008, and 2014.
The Illinois State Board of Elections, which is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to accept Erickson’s recommendation in the Trump case, is a bipartisan panel with four Democrats and four Republicans. Their decision can be appealed in Illinois state courts.
Illinois’ Republican primary is on March 19. With Trump dominating the GOP nomination race, the Illinois contest may have little political impact. But the battle over his spot on the primary ballot is a proxy fight over his overall eligibility to return to the White House.
At its Tuesday meeting, the election board is also slated to vote on a 14th Amendment challenge lodged against President Joe Biden by a group of conservative activists.
They say Biden “provided aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States” by failing to secure the US-Mexico border. Legal experts have largely panned the idea of applying the “insurrectionist ban” against Biden as a meritless stunt, even as some Republicans have embraced the move as a way to retaliate against the Democratic incumbent.
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