Could former President Donald Trump be barred from appearing on Pennsylvania’s 2024 presidential primary and/or general election ballot?
Yes, if John A. Castro has his way.
Castro, a little-known candidate for the GOP presidential nomination from Texas, has filed a complaint against Trump and Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt to block Trump’s name from being placed on the ballot. He claims that the former president “provided aid or comfort to insurrectionists” who stormed the Capitol, thus disqualifying hm from holding or even pursuing any public office.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction from the Commonwealth Court to prevent Schmidt from accepting or processing any documents toward a Trump candidacy.
Pennsylvania is not the lone state in which Castro has filed suit in the same manner. In January, he filed in Florida but a judge – controversial Trump appointee Aileen Cannon – dismissed the case because it lacked standing. He since has appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and, the U.S. Supreme Court, to rule that he has standing to sue the former president. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) previously dismissed a similar lawsuit Castro filed against Trump, also ruling he lacked standing in the case.
Castro has also filed suits in Arizona and New Hampshire.
The 14th Amendment (section 3) reads:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
In an article written for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, prominent conservative law professors William Baude and Michael Paulsen conclude that Trump must be barred from the ballot due to that clause.
“Taking Section Three seriously means excluding from present or future office those who sought to subvert lawful government authority under the Constitution in the aftermath of the 2020 election,” they write.
In an article for The Atlantic, retired former federal judge J. Michael Luttig and top legal scholar Laurence Tribe make a similar due to the “disqualification clause.” It’s only two sentences long but it could doom Trump’s bid to return to the White House. The disqualification clause “forbids the former president from holding the office of the presidency again because of his conduct in and around January 6, 2021,” says Judge Luttig. And as Tribe points out, it’s not a sanction against an individual. “The framers of the 14th Amendment took great care not to treat this as a punishment … Nobody has a right to be president without meeting the qualifications.”
The pair also spoke to MSNBC’s Ali Velshi about the article.
Although Castro has taken the bull by the horns and filed those lawsuits in the three states, there are continued questions about his standing, as well as the veracity of some his campaign claims to date, that could cause his suits to be dismissed.
The 39-year-old Castro filed his candidacy for president in January 2022 and campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate that he loaned his campaign $20 million back in March. His website says that he graduated from Georgetown University Law Center and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico Law School, although he is not licensed to practice law.
Despite his loan that was reported to the FEC, Castro has been sued by American Express for an outstanding credit card bill of $53,923.74, and recently requested a pro bono lawyer in a lawsuit brought by a former tax client, hinting that he could not afford a lawyer.