trump on the stage
Former President Donald Trump filed a countersuit as opponents seek to keep him off Michigan’s 2024 ballots. (File photo)

LANSING — Former President Donald Trump is suing Michigan to ensure he can appear on state primary and general election ballots next year as he seeks a return to the White House. 

This story also appeared in Bridge Michigan

Attorneys for the Florida Republican filed a complaint Tuesday in the Michigan Court of Claims seeking to bar Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from disqualifying Trump from 2024 presidential ballots.

Trump’s move comes as the court considers separate lawsuits from liberal groups seeking to keep him from the ballot because of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which disqualifies from public office those who have “engaged in insurrection.”

Trump “incited” angry supporters to lead a “violent insurrection” on Jan. 6, 2021, when protesters delayed congressional certification of Democratic President Joe Biden’s win, according to a Sept. 29 complaint in Michigan from a Massachusetts-based group called Free Speech for the People. 

In Tuesday’s countersuit, Trump’s attorneys contend the 14th Amendment does not apply to the president or candidates and requires Congress to decide how it is enforced, not Michigan courts or officials. 

January 6 was a “riot” and not the kind of “insurrection” described in the 14th Amendment, Lansing-based attorney David Kallman wrote in the complaint for Trump. 

The events “did not amount to levying war against the United States,” Kallman continued. And even if they did, Trump did not “engage” in that war by failing to stop his supporters.

Benson, a second-term Democrat, has already said she will not keep Trump off the ballot in Michigan unless directed to do so by a court of law. 

“Michigan Election Law does not empower the Secretary of State to unilaterally determine a presidential candidate ineligible for the presidential primary or general election” because of the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause, state attorneys for Benson wrote in an Oct. 16 filing.

Trump had initially sought to intervene in the two lawsuits seeking to keep him off the ballot and had asked the state to dismiss both. 

Court of Claims Judge Robert Redford denied Trump’s requests, largely on technical grounds, but suggested the former president file a separate complaint to be consolidated with those suits ahead of oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 6.

Opponents in multiple states have filed similar lawsuits seeking to keep Trump off the ballot, including Colorado, where a high-profile trial began Monday. 

The 14th Amendment was ratified three years after the Civil War, and had to be ratified by Southern states seeking reentry to the Union. The insurrection clause was designed to prevent former Confederate officials from holding public office, but that prohibition was overturned just four years later.

While the amendment’s relevance to Trump is far from a settled question, some legal scholars have suggested he should be barred from the 2024 ballot because of his conduct on Jan. 6.

Indiana University Law Professor Gerard Magliocca, a leading proponent of the theory, filed a legal brief in the Michigan case this month.

“The public use of violence by a group of people to prevent or hinder the execution of the Constitution of the United States is an insurrection” within the meaning of the 14th Amendment, attorneys for Magliocca wrote. 

And it applies to “a former President who swore an oath to persevere, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.”

Trump’s attorneys argue otherwise, and in Tuesday’s countersuit argued that disqualifying him from the ballot would “irreparably harm” voters and Trump, who has a large lead in national polls of the GOP primary field. 

Trump has a constitutional right “to campaign for the support of Michigan voters in his effort to secure the Republican Party nomination for president,” Kallman wrote in the complaint, “and, if successful, to campaign for their votes in the 2024 general election.”

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