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Maine's secretary of state says Trump isn't qualified to appear on the state's ballot


We have some breaking news tonight. Maine's secretary of state says former President Donald Trump is not qualified to appear on that state's presidential primary ballot. In a written decision, she cited Trump's role in citing the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Maine is now one of two states, along with Colorado, to say Trump is disqualified from appearing on a ballot. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled the other way. The central question here is whether a section of the 14th Amendment that bars candidates from seeking office if they participated in or aided an insurrection applies to Trump. Steve Mistler of member station Maine Public has been reading this new decision since it was handed down, just not too long ago. Steve, thanks for joining us.

STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: My pleasure, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to what this decision says, explain - in the other states that have decided this, courts have handled the question of Trump's eligibility. Why was it Maine's secretary of state that made the decision here?

MISTLER: Well, Maine has a law that allows its top election official, the secretary of state, to weigh challenges to ballot access. And it's unique from the other states where this has sort of percolated up around the country. And that process effectively put Secretary of State Shenna Bellows in a quasi-judicial role here. She held an evidentiary hearing about a week ago tomorrow, which included oral arguments from challengers and Trump's legal team. And her ruling today is really a result of that process. But Trump's legal team has argued repeatedly that Bellows doesn't have the authority to remove candidates from the ballot, much less interpret the constitutional questions at issue here.

SHAPIRO: As we mentioned, that constitutional question is whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and the so-called insurrection clause bar Trump from the White House. Tell us more about that analysis here.

MISTLER: Right. And by the constitutional question, it's - you know, like we're seeing in other states, the ruling really turns on this interpretation of a constitutional provision that was put in place after the Civil War to bar participants or sympathizers of the Confederacy from holding office without basically getting clemency from Congress. And Bellows' ruling really turns on that particular section. She says that Trump is ineligible for the main ballot because he violated that provision when he incited the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in 2021 and of course, the lead up to those riots, which included a lot of misinformation about the election and who won, which was Joe Biden.

Trump's attorneys reject that interpretation and are expected to appeal rulings like this one to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a ruling there will affect similar ballot challenges, including this one. But nevertheless, Bellows told me tonight that she had the authority to make this ruling and also that she felt compelled to - yeah, to deny Trump access to the ballot because of what she described as his unprecedented actions on and before and during January 6.

SHAPIRO: Well, this decision was only just issued this evening, but how are Maine Republicans reacting? This is a state that President Biden carried in 2020. But Trump is popular in some parts of Maine.

MISTLER: That's right. And he won Maine's second congressional district twice in 2020 and in 2016. And he was able to secure an electoral vote both times because of this weird way that Maine allocates its electoral votes. It's one of only two states in the country that does it that way. But needless to say, Ari, Republicans here are incensed. Some are calling it a partisan sham because Bellows is a Democrat and has previously criticized Trump for his role in January 6 and, you know, applauded the attempts to impeach him. In fact, his attorneys asked Bellows to disqualify herself from this ruling because they said she was impartial - she was not impartial, excuse me. And other Republicans, meanwhile, say the ruling is just undemocratic. And that's something we're seeing all over the country as challenges like this one bubble up all over the place.

SHAPIRO: Steve Mistler of Maine Public, thank you very much.

MISTLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Journalist Steve Mistler is MPBN's chief political correspondent and statehouse bureau chief, specializing in the coverage of politics and state government.