The Minnesota Republican Party filed a petition with the state Supreme Court late Wednesday saying that barring former President Donald Trump from the ballot would cut away party members' constitutional rights, especially the First Amendment right of association.
The state GOP response said an earlier petition seeking to bar Trump asks the state Supreme Court to "flip federalism on its head and usurp federal authority by asserting that this court and the secretary of state have the authority to disqualify a candidate for federal office."
The Republican Party submitted the first substantive response to the petition filed earlier this month with the state's high court. The petition seeks to keep Trump off the ballot because of his role in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. The state GOP response mirrored the Trump camp's answer to a similar case in Colorado by saying the First Amendment protects the former president.
Trump's own lawyers also filed a response later saying, among other things, the matter doesn't belong in a Minnesota court and they disputed that Trump did anything other than encourage a peaceful protest on Jan. 6. They asked the court to dismiss the petition as meritless.
While rioters were at the Capitol, Trump repeatedly and publicly urged them to be peaceful and to go home, his lawyers wrote. The petition against Trump identified "no fact that could remotely suggest that this course of conduct amounted to 'engaging in insurrection.' Watching some of a riot on television, and then asking that it end, simply is not and could not amount to engaging in insurrection," the wrote.
The petition seeking to bar Trump was filed by the national nonprofit Free Speech for People and a bipartisan group of Minnesotans, including former Secretary of State Joan Growe and former state Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson.
The Free Speech for People petition targeting Trump cited the insurrection disqualification clause in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The clause, inspired by the Civil War, says former public officials are barred from running for office again if they have given aid or comfort to enemies engaging in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States. No criminal conviction is required.
Trump's lawyers said Section 3 doesn't apply to the president or the presidency.
In its response, the state GOP said banning Trump "would do violence, not simply to the Republican Party of Minnesota, but to all political parties and their members. This Court should decline Petitioners' invitation to play butcher to the U.S. Constitution."
The response says barring Trump from the ballot would interfere with the Republican Party's First Amendment rights by limiting who it "may associate with as its presidential candidate."
Attorney General Keith Ellison's office also filed a formal response to the Growe petition on behalf of Secretary of State Steve Simon's office. The response took no position on whether Trump should be barred but said Simon "strongly agrees" that the court is the proper arbiter of who is eligible for the ballot.
Simon's response requested that the court make a ruling no later than Jan. 5 so the ballots are ready for absentee voting.
The court has already recognized the need for a swift hearing, scheduling oral arguments Nov. 2, and citing the state's presidential nominating primary on March 5, 2024. That's when the major parties select their candidates for national office. The deadline for submitting the ballot names to Simon's office is Jan. 2. Absentee voting begins Jan. 19.
The group's petition to bar Trump cited his actions in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, including his repeated false claims of widespread election fraud and his urging of former Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of President Joe Biden.
Trump also incited his supporters, some of them armed, to march to the U.S. Capitol and "fight like hell," the Growe petition said.
The petition noted that as the insurrection unfolded, Trump stayed in the White House dining room and refused to call off his supporters for more than three hours as they violently attacked U.S. Capitol police and forced members of Congress into hiding. It also states that judges hearing Jan. 6-related criminal cases have repeatedly said Trump is responsible for the insurrection.
Section 3 has been widely discussed across the country in part because of a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article written by two law professors: Michael Stokes Paulsen at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis and William Baude at the University of Chicago.
The Minnesota GOP response said the Trump petition was based on "untested and strained legal theories" better suited for debate in academia, not by the court on the eve of an election season. "And, most importantly, not at the expense of the [Republican Party of Minnesota] and its members' right to freedom of association," the response said.