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Cook County judge kicks Trump off Illinois ballot — but puts her own order on hold

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Andrew Harnik
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

A Cook County judge Wednesday ordered the state election board to remove former President Donald Trump from Illinois’ March 19 primary ballot but put her order on hold until Friday in anticipation of a likely appeal.

Judge Tracie Porter’s decision comes amid national debate over whether Trump is disqualified from the presidency because of his actions related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and whether that attack amounted to an insurrection.

In her lengthy ruling, Porter wrote that she was aware that her “decision could not be the ultimate outcome,” given that higher courts will have a chance to weigh in.

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on the controversy soon — and appeared skeptical of the arguments to kick Trump off Colorado’s ballot. The clock is ticking on the nation’s high court given that Colorado’s primary election is Tuesday. Porter also said her order would be put on hold if the Supreme court’s ruling is ultimately “inconsistent” with hers.

A Trump campaign spokesman called Porter’s ruling “unconstitutional” and vowed a quick appeal.

“Today, an activist Democrat judge in Illinois summarily overruled the state’s board of elections and contradicted earlier decisions from dozens of other state and federal jurisdictions,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said. “This is an unconstitutional ruling that we will quickly appeal. In the meantime, President Trump remains on the Illinois ballot, is dominating the polls, and will Make America Great Again!”

But an attorney representing the objectors to Trump’s spot on the ballot hailed Porter’s ruling as a “very important victory.”

“She has reviewed the extensive body of evidence and determined that he’s disqualified from the presidency. That is a critical decision that is adding to decisions in Colorado and Maine on this point,” attorney Caryn Lederer said.

“We don’t know if the Supreme Court will actually even reach the issue of whether or not Trump engaged in insurrection,” she said, when asked what effect a U.S. Supreme Court decision before Tuesday could have on Porter’s ruling.

Lederer said Porter’s ruling established “what happened on January 6th and President Trump’s involvement.”

While questions about whether a major-party frontrunner may appear on a ballot are not insignificant, they seem ultimately inconsequential here in Illinois considering Trump received just 39% and 41% of the vote in the 2016 and 2020 general elections, respectively.

Meanwhile, Trump delegates on the March 19 ballot have been certified and would still be free to vote for Trump at the Republican National Convention no matter how the court battle here plays out.

Attorneys for five voters objecting to Trump’s candidacy have insisted the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling will not completely resolve their case. Rather, they expect it will eventually reach the Illinois Supreme Court.

Also objecting to Trump’s candidacy is the national voting rights group Free Speech for People.

The State Board of Elections voted unanimously last month to reject the same bid to block Trump from Illinois’ ballot under the 14th Amendment. But Porter found the board’s decision to be “clearly erroneous.”

The 14th Amendment bars from “any office, civil or military, under the United States” anyone who previously took an oath as an “officer of the United States” to support the Constitution but then engaged in “insurrection or rebellion.”

Trump’s lawyers have told the U.S. Supreme Court the amendment doesn’t apply because the president is not an “officer of the United States” under the Constitution and because he did not engage in “anything that qualifies as ‘insurrection.’”

In her 38-page ruling reviewing last month’s decision by the state election board, Porter relied on an earlier decision by the Colorado Supreme Court finding that Trump is barred from the presidency under the 14th Amendment.

She found its opinion to be “well-articulated, rationale (sic) and established in historical context.”

She found that Trump failed to qualify for the presidency under the 14th Amendment “based on engaging in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.”

But she also wrote that she “shares the Colorado Supreme Court’s sentiments that [it] did not reach its conclusions lightly.” Porter wrote that she “also realizes the magnitude of this decision and [its] impact on the upcoming primary Illinois elections.”

She went on to rule that, given those findings and the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court, Trump “falsely swore” in his Illinois paperwork that he was “legally qualified” for office.

In a footnote, Porter also called it “shocking” that the state election board made no factual findings about the events of Jan. 6.

Porter added that the record made clear its members “wanted to get as far away from this case as possible, likely given its notoriety.”

In rejecting the challenge to Trump’s candidacy, the state board found in part that Trump’s declaration that he was qualified for the presidency was not “knowingly false.”

During more than three hours of arguments at the Daley Center on Feb. 16, attorneys for the objecting voters called that an “impossible” and “unworkable” standard to apply going forward.

Meanwhile, questions also came up as to whether the Jan. 6 riot rose to the level of an insurrection. Trump’s lawyers argued it did not. For a riot to qualify, they said, the mob must intend to supplant existing law with its own.

Either way, Trump’s lawyers have said he did not “engage” in those events.

They also did not defend the mob’s actions on Jan. 6 in their arguments at the Daley Center. Rather, Trump lawyer Adam Merrill called the events of that day “deplorable” and “shameful.” He said there was “clearly evidence of crimes and violence.”

“Some of them very serious,” Merrill said. “And repugnant.”

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Jon Seidel writes about federal courts and legal affairs for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois government and politics for WBEZ and was the longtime Springfield bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Jon Seidel covers federal courts for the Chicago Sun-Times.