© 2024 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Scroll down to see all available streams.

Debate over Trump’s eligibility for office sparks legal review in Maine

Evan Vucci

Maine's top election official and attorney are reviewing the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates in this state at a time when some constitutional scholars question whether former President Trump should be excluded from holding office again.

The somewhat cryptic statement released by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Attorney General Aaron Frey on Thursday doesn’t name Trump or even say what prompted the announcement.

“Our offices are working together to research and analyze the legal requirements for ballot access, including presidential ballot access, as we do prior to every major election,” Bellows and Frey said in the joint statement. “Any decisions about ballot access will be made dispassionately at the proper time in accordance with the laws and the Constitution, which will be our sole consideration.”

But secretaries of state and attorneys general across the country are conducting similar reviews as headlines swirl about potential challenges to Trump’s eligibility. Those challenges, which have already started cropping up in some states, are based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That section bars anyone from serving as president, in Congress or holding other public offices if they swore an oath to support the Constitution and then subsequently "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the government.

Two of the four indictments against Trump focus on his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections – namely, his involvement in the events of January 6 when rioters tried to disrupt Congress’s affirmation of President Biden’s victory and his alleged interference in the outcome of the Georgia election that year.

Several constitutional attorneys and scholars from both sides of the aisle have published articles in recent months arguing that Trump is likely ineligible under the 14th Amendment. The issue came up during the recent GOP presidential debate that Trump skipped as well.

But each state has different criteria for getting on the ballot, even for presidential candidates. In an interview, Bellows said her office is receiving a lot of inquiries about Maine’s requirements.

"We're not going to engage in public conversations or weighing how many queries are on one side or the other,” Bellows said. “What we are doing is looking at the law, looking at the constitution, reviewing those requirements and any decision will only be made based on the facts presented at the proper time."

Bellows and Frey are both Democrats but the pair pledged to only follow the guidance in state law and the constitution. They did not, however, provide a timeline for their review. Under state law, presidential campaigns can begin gathering signatures to qualify for Maine’s ballot this fall. Those papers are due to Bellows’ office by December 1. Maine and 14 other states will hold their presidential primaries or caucuses on “Super Tuesday,” which is March 5 of next year.

Officials in other states are also feeling the need to respond to the growing pressure over ballot eligibility. New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, for instance, felt obliged to issue a statement earlier this week on the topic as speculation swirled about a potential challenge in that state and whether he had made up his mind already.

“Neither the Secretary of State’s Office nor the Attorney General’s Office has taken any position regarding the potential applicability of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to the

upcoming presidential election cycle,” reads the statement from Scanlan and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. “The Secretary of State’s Office has requested the Attorney General’s Office to advise the Secretary of State

regarding the meaning of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the provision’s potential applicability to the upcoming presidential election cycle. The Attorney General’s Office is now carefully reviewing the legal issues involved.”