The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states cannot declare former President Donald Trump ineligible to run for president, prompting Maine’s secretary of state to withdraw her ruling that he should be barred from the state’s primary ballot.

The unanimous decision by the nation’s highest court gives Congress the sole authority to prevent candidates from holding federal office based on an anti-insurrectionist clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Election 2024 Trump

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows had ruled that Trump was ineligible for Maine’s Republican primary because of his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, although she held off enforcing the decision while the courts considered the issue. Bellows reversed course on Monday hours after the Supreme Court decision.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individual states lack authority to enforce Section Three of the 14th Amendment with respect to federal offices,” Bellows said in a statement. “Consistent with my oath and obligation to follow the law and the Constitution. … I hereby withdraw my determination that Mr. Trump’s primary petition is invalid.”

Bellows’ decision was on hold pending the U.S. Supreme court’s review and Trump’s name is on the ballot for the Maine Republican primary to be held Tuesday.

“As a result of the modified ruling, votes cast for Mr. Trump in the March 5, 2024, Presidential Primary Election will be counted,” Bellows’ office said in a statement.


Trump posted on his social media network shortly after the decision was released: “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not respond to questions about the ruling Monday.

While based on a case out of Colorado, the outcome settles the legal dispute in Maine and ends legal challenges in other states that focused on Trump’s role in the Capital riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and language in the U.S. Constitution that says insurrectionists are ineligible for certain federal offices.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says a person may not hold office if they have “engaged in insurrection” against the United States after having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution. The Colorado court ruled Trump engaged in insurrection by inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, and therefore was ineligible for the office. Trump appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While winning the ballot access case Monday, Trump still faces federal criminal charges stemming from the Jan. 6 attacks, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, witness tampering and other charges.

Dmitry Bam, vice dean/provost of the University of Maine School of Law, said the ruling did not come as a surprise. During the oral arguments in February, even the more liberal Supreme Court justices seemed to be inclined to the position that Trump would remain on state ballots.


Bam agrees with the Supreme Court ruling that Congress should be the deciding body, not state officials.

“I have some discomfort with an approach that allows individual state officials or in the case of Colorado – elected judges – from the opposing party deciding to disqualify someone from the ballot,” Bam said. “To me this seems to be the more democratic approach, taking it out of the hands of individual state officers.”


Bam said Trump’s criminal legal challenges in court are not relevant to what Congress would ultimately decide about his eligibility, except to the extent that it could sway lawmakers. It’s an entirely separate process, he said.

“The court’s opinion is pretty clear – it is for Congress to decide who has engaged in insurrection,” Bam said. “Even an insurrection charge against someone wouldn’t change that.”

It was unclear whether the ruling leaves open the possibility that Congress could refuse to certify the election of Trump or any other presidential candidate it sees as having violated Section 3.


While the ruling was unanimous, justices disagreed about how Congress could apply the anti-insurrectionist clause. The ruling said that the only avenue for Congress to prevent insurrectionists from appearing on the ballot is to pass a law, which would be extremely difficult in a closely divided Congress. However, the three liberal justices – Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson – issued a concurring opinion that said it should be up to Congress to decide the remedy.

The justices ruled a day before the Super Tuesday primary election in Maine and 15 other states and territories.

Ben Gaines, an attorney for those challenging whether Trump should be on the Maine ballot, noted that the Supreme Court did not render an opinion about whether Trump engaged in insurrection. He maintained the evidence is clear that Trump did.

“After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, he deliberately incited an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion casts doubt on that inescapable conclusion,” Gaines said.


“The Supreme Court invented a new rule to avoid enforcing the 14th amendment,” he said, referring to the ruling. “Now, it will be up to every citizen and voter to hold this insurrectionist former president accountable for his heinous actions. We can’t forget what Donald Trump did. That’s especially true because when Trump loses this November he’s likely to turn to political violence once again.”

Trump’s case was the first at the Supreme Court dealing with a provision of the 14th Amendment that was adopted after the Civil War to prevent former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again.

Colorado’s Supreme Court, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, had decided that the provision, Section 3, could be applied to Trump, who that court found incited the Capitol attack. No court before had applied Section 3 to a presidential candidate. Maine law leaves the decision to the secretary of state, and Bellows was the first state-level election official to rule against Trump’s eligibility.

While Trump had been kicked off the ballots in Colorado, Maine and Illinois, all three rulings were on hold awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision.

Republicans have slammed Bellows over the issue since December, even calling for her removal from office.

Maine GOP chairman Joel Stetkis, in a fundraising email to Republicans after ruling, wrote that “Bellows tried to win the election for Joe Biden via bureaucratic coup, and she has lost at every level of the Maine and U.S. legal system.”

Democrats were muted in their response, with many party leaders saying Trump’s eligibility should be up the courts and the voters.

Brian Duff, political science professor at the University of New England, said there will a “dust-up” for a few days, but the topic will fade soon and there wouldn’t be any long-term political fallout. Bellows “felt like it was her responsibility” to rule when challengers filed a petition and she presented a well-researched opinion, even if many disagreed, he said.

“Bellows explicitly invited the opinion of the Supreme Court,” Duff said. “She said she would like to hear from the Supreme Court and would abide by their decision.”

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