Why a Former Black Panther Leader’s Exclusion from the Presidential Ballot In 1968 Could Keep Donald Trump Off Several Ballots In 2024

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The Colorado Supreme Court is mulling over whether to keep Donald Trump off its state ballots ahead of the impending 2024 presidential election due to a 55-year-old ruling involving a former Black Panther leader, which could set a precedent for several other states.

A district court judge already ruled that Trump “engaged in insurrection” in direct violation of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. That clause bars anyone from “hold(ing) any office, civil or military, under the United States” if they have “previously taken an oath … as an officer of the United States” to “support the Constitution,” and then engaged in insurrection or rebellion.

Former President Donald Trump (left) and former Black Panther Leader Eldridge Cleaver in 1968 (right) (Left photo: Getty Images, Right photo: YouTube/Hoover Institution Library and Archives)
Former President Donald Trump (left) and former Black Panther Leader Eldridge Cleaver in 1968 (right) (Left photo: Getty Images, Right photo: YouTube/Hoover Institution Library and Archives)

That clause was heavily exercised in the period after the Civil War against former Confederate soldiers but might be employed again because of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Last year, a New Mexico court removed a GOP county commissioner from office who had participated in the attack.

That lower court ruling comes just a few months ahead of a trial Trump will face after he was criminally indicted in connection to the insurrection. Federal prosecutors will have to prove whether Trump purposely tried to overturn President Joe Biden‘s electoral victory by inciting rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol.

For now, justices for Colorado’s highest court are hearing arguments on whether to ban Trump from the state ballot in 2024 because of that lower court ruling.

According to Newsweek, Derek T. Muller, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, highlighted several instances in a court briefing in which presidential candidates were disqualified from the ballot because they were deemed ineligible under the U.S. Constitution.

One of those cases features Eldridge Cleaver, a former Black Panther leader who ran for president in 1968 under the Peace and Freedom Party. Cleaver, who was 33 at the time, was excluded from the ballot in California because he didn’t reach the minimum age requirement to become president, which is 35.

“Cleaver was the 33-year-old nominee of the Peace and Freedom Party. He challenged the exclusion in state court, which rejected his challenge. Cleaver petitioned for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Without comment, the Court rejected the petition,” Muller wrote.

Muller wrote in the briefing that Cleaver’s case “demonstrates the fact that a state did exclude a candidate from the ballot for failure to meet the qualifications for office. And intriguingly, California excluded Cleaver even though Cleaver would become eligible during the four-year [presidential] term of office.”

Biden handily won Colorado in 2020, earning 55 percent of the vote to Trump’s 41 percent and nine electoral votes. If Trump is disqualified, it would undercut his chances to win a key battleground state where he is reportedly gaining popularity.

In October, an Emerson College poll discovered that Biden led Trump by 42 percent to 38 percent in voter favorability in Colorado. That’s compared to a poll Emerson College conducted in September that gave Biden a 10-point lead at 46 percent to Trump’s 36 percent.

Muller also told Newsweek that the likelihood is low that the Colorado Supreme Court could disallow Trump’s name from appearing on the ballot. That’s because it’s unclear whether the Section 3 clause applies to presidents. Typically, states faced with 14th Amendment challenges either reject them or hand them over to Congress because judges have ruled in the past that states shouldn’t make the decisions to disqualify.

Judges in Minnesota and Michigan already have rejected similar 14th Amendment challenges to keep Trump off the ballots in their states.