Maine's top trial court has deferred a ruling on whether to uphold or overturn the Maine secretary of state's decision that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from appearing on the 2024 primary ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, also known as the "insurrection clause."
Justice Michaela Murphy in Kennebec County Superior Court wrote in a 17-page decision on Wednesday that she wanted to "promote consistency and avoid voter confusion" ahead of the state's March 5 primary by declining to rule on the "unprecedented issues" that are already set to be considered in a separate case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Murphy denied the Trump team's appeal of Secretary of State Shenna Bellows' December decision and his motion to stay the court's proceedings but also stayed Bellows' ruling pending the outcome before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation's highest court said on Jan. 5 that it would consider a similar 14th Amendment challenge to Trump out of Colorado, after that state's top court ruled the former president ineligible for their primary ballot under the disqualification clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court set oral arguments for Feb. 8.
Murphy ordered Bellows to make a new ruling on Trump's qualifications within 30 days of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the 14th Amendment challenge out of Colorado. Bellows must then either confirm, modify or withdraw her prior decision, Murphy decided.
Bellows, a Democrat, on Dec. 28 ruled Trump ineligible to be on the state's 2024 primary ballot because of actions surrounding the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, finding that he violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
She found that the rioting was carried out "at the behest of, and with the knowledge and support of" Trump, which he has consistently rejected.
Her order upheld challenges from three Maine politicians and a resident of the state: former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling; former state Sens. Kim Rosen, a Republican, and Tom Saviello, who is a former Republican turned independent; and resident Mary-Anne Royal, all of whom argued the former president was ineligible under Section 3.
"Ultimately, we’re happy with the Court's decision to leave the Secretary’s ruling intact: that Trump is an insurrectionist and that the 14th amendment applies. We’ll decide next steps soon," Strimling said in a statement.
A Trump spokesman reacted to the Maine court ruling later on Wednesday, saying in part, "This is a correct action, and we remain steadfast in our opposition to these bad-faith shams."
Trump has vigorously denied all wrongdoing and quickly appealed Bellows' decision -- just as he appealed the court finding in Colorado that he engaged in an insurrection on Jan. 6.
Bellows decided to "suspend the effect" of her decision until the Maine courts ruled on Trump's appeal. Trump's legal team then asked the Maine court to hold off on weighing in on Bellows' ruling until after the Colorado case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump's team contended the secretary of state was a "biased decisionmaker who should have recused herself and otherwise failed to provide lawful due process" and had "no legal authority" to consider the challenge.
The extensive legal maneuvering underscores the gravity of the issue now before the courts: Whether Trump's conduct related to Jan. 6 amid his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss disqualifies him from running for president again.
He has faced a number of such challenges, many of which have failed although they were successful in Colorado and Maine, leading to the ongoing legal battle.
In her ruling last month, Bellow said she was "mindful" no secretary of state had "deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment" but balanced that with what she said was the nature of Trump's actions.
"I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection."