Featured photo: A Trump rally in Winston-Salem in September 2020. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)

This article was first published by Carolina Public Press, story by Mehr Sher

The Colorado Supreme Court ruling in December, which disqualifies former President Donald Trump from running for president in that state under the disqualification clause in the U.S. Constitution, is likely to have implications in North Carolina too, experts say. 

Recent efforts nationwide have tried to disqualify Trump from primary elections, but they were dismissed on procedural grounds because political parties get to decide how delegates are assigned and nominees get chosen, according to David Becker, the executive director and founder of The Center for Election Innovation and Research, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, civic organization. 

“I don’t think this is going to make it more or less likely that any other state court passes a similar ruling, it’s very likely however that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up this case and that will have a significant impact on the states,” Becker said during a virtual media briefing on Wednesday.  

Carolina Public Press interviewed five political scientists Wednesday to examine the significance of the Colorado ruling and its implications in North Carolina. 

While some N.C. experts say similar efforts to disqualify Trump from the ballot in the state could possibly take place, most agree that the N.C. Supreme Court, which has a Republican-majority bench, may not rule in their favor. 

Other experts say that what happens on a state level is of less consequence if the Colorado Supreme Court decision is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would ultimately either qualify or disqualify Trump on ballots in all states, including North Carolina. 

Martha Kropf, a professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wouldn’t be surprised if there were efforts to disqualify Trump in North Carolina, she said.

“It is possible for a similar case to be brought to a lower or state court in North Carolina,” Kropf said, but “it still may be a federal issue like the one in Colorado.”

“It’s a state supreme court interpreting the U.S. Constitution,” said John Szmer, also a professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, of the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling. “They have their interpretation and it only applies to Colorado and nowhere else.”

The disqualification clause in the federal Constitution is not the strongest legal argument because courts have disagreed on the issue and “it at least fits in a legal gray area,” Szmer said. 

“There are possible implications for perceptions of the legitimacy of courts when they challenge the candidacy of somebody who has a very intense political following and is a perceived leader of a political party,” he said.

NC court friendly to Trump

Most of the experts interviewed share a similar perspective, that a state supreme court decision like Colorado’s is improbable in North Carolina’s political landscape. 

Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, said such a ruling “is not possible here” because of the composition of the court — a Republican majority N.C. Supreme Court bench.

Based on the N.C. Supreme Court’s recent decisions on various voting issues, such as the reversal of the court’s decision on the voter ID requirement, it seems probable on a state-level that attempting to disqualify Trump from the ballot wouldn’t be possible, Kropf said. 

Szmer agrees that “the probability of the North Carolina Supreme Court agreeing with the Colorado Supreme Court is very, very low,” he said.

However, the State Constitution in North Carolina also has specific criteria for disqualification for office. It describes three instances in which a person can be disqualified: denying “the being of Almighty God,” if a person “is not qualified to vote in an election for that office” and anyone who is found “guilty of treason or any other felony against this State or the United States.” 

While the State Constitution does describe the grounds for disqualification, “North Carolina’s Supreme Court, appellate courts and the state Board of Elections will be very careful moving forwards in this direction because of this perception that the election might be rigged,” said Nadine Gibson, an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, of the sociopolitical climate in the state. 

“This is very touchy territory, considering that the Jan. 6 situation is present in the back of many people’s minds,” she said of the statewide implications of disqualifying Trump on the ballot.  

Preparations for elections start very early, she said. If Trump were disqualified from the ballot at the last minute, “there could be financial costs” for election administration, such as the reprinting of ballots, she said. 

“It’s better to have the courts figure out what’s going to happen now, rather than even a few months from now,” Gibson said. 

Andrew Taylor, a professor of political science at N.C. State, said if Trump were convicted in any of the federal cases against him, he possibly could be disqualified in North Carolina under the state Constitution. 

“If Trump was found guilty as a felon, then he wouldn’t be, through that logic, qualified to be on the ballot in North Carolina,” Taylor said. 

While Taylor isn’t sure whether any movements are afoot in the state to do that, he said, “I bet you there are lawsuits ready to go should this happen to Trump.”

Given that 2024 is an election year, Taylor said it’s clear to him that Trump’s qualification is a matter that would be best resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court because “it is a matter of federal office and the U.S. Constitution.”

“We’re on the road to some kind of national solution,” he said.

This article first appeared on Carolina Public Press and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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