A group of former state supreme court justices filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Trump v. Anderson urging the Court to affirm the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that Donald Trump is disqualified under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The justices served as associate and chief justices of state supreme courts in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, and North Carolina. Several of the justices were elected as Republicans or appointed by Republican governors. They are represented by Free Speech For People, a national nonpartisan nonprofit public interest advocacy organization that has pioneered legal actions to enforce Section 3 against those involved in the January 6 insurrection, and Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, a Minneapolis-based law firm.

The brief argues three main points: that states do not require federal legislation to enforce Section 3; that the Constitution authorizes states to adjudicate presidential candidates’ qualifications; and that Section 3 was enacted to prevent the threats that Trump presents to state and federal courts. Its summary of argument reads:

The Supremacy Clause requires state courts to enforce federal constitutional provisions where they apply to state-law causes of action. And state courts have continuously enforced Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment—including the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses—since Reconstruction. In this respect, Section 3, like the presidential qualifications established in Article II, operates like Section 1: state courts do not require congressional permission to enforce it.

Under the Electors Clause, states’ plenary power to appoint presidential electors allows states to condition appointment on their voting only for constitutionally eligible candidates. This necessarily includes power to decide whether candidates are eligible. Neither the Twelfth nor the Twentieth Amendment, nor any other constitutional provision, commits this determination exclusively to Congress or strips states of their power.

State courts have a particular interest in vindicating Section 3’s purpose: protecting the republic from insurrectionists returning to power. Trump exemplifies this risk by repeatedly threatening judges, judicial employees, and others involved in the court system. Declining to apply Section 3 for fear of Trump-incited mob violence would not prevent that violence; it would simply shift its burden to thousands of justices, judges, and court staff, and would invite more chaos, violence, and insurrection.

The brief concludes by urging the Supreme Court to faithfully apply the plain meaning of Section 3 and not to be swayed by threats and politics: 

This Court must not be swayed by fear of mob violence that Trump may incite upon its affirming Colorado’s decision. The Constitution and the rule of law demand enforcing Section 3. The arguments for reversal are political arguments, not based on the law, but rather on threats and fears of supposedly adverse consequences that this Court—bound by the plain text and original public meaning of the Constitution—must not indulge. Failing to enforce Section 3 out of fear of reaction by Trump and his supporters would prostrate the Constitution before a mob.

The justices joining the brief are:

  1. Paul H. Anderson (Associate Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court, 1994-2013); 
  2. Fernande Duffly (Associate Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 2011-2016);
  3. James Exum, Jr. (Associate Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court, 1975-1986; Chief Justice, 1986-1994);
  4. Joseph Grodin (Associate Justice, California Supreme Court, 1982-1987);
  5. James Nelson (Associate Justice, Montana Supreme Court, 1993-2013);
  6. Robert Orr (Associate Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court, 1995-2004);
  7. Peggy Quince (Associate Justice, Florida Supreme Court, 1999-2008 and 2010-2019; Chief Justice, 2008-2010).

Read the amicus brief here.

Read about Free Speech For People’s leadership in Section 3 litigation and advocacy since 2021 here.