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Maine's highest court rejects secretary of state's appeal of Donald Trump primary ballot decision

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party in Nashua, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.
Matt Rourke
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party in Nashua, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to review her decision to bar Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot.

The seven justices on the state’s highest court ruled that the request was “interlocutory,” a legal term meaning that a lower court’s ruling is not final. In their 19-page ruling, the justices also said that taking up Bellows’ appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a similar case in Colorado could “risk additional process and delay.” 

The ruling follows a decision by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy to remand, or suspend, Bellows’ decision in December to remove Trump from the ballot until the Colorado case is resolved.

Bellows had argued that the Colorado ruling might be narrowly tailored to that state’s laws. She also argued that not resolving the dispute here could affect her office’s administration of the March 5 primary elections.

Maine’s highest court rejected both arguments.

“Indeed, there is at least as great a risk of additional process and delay if we consider this appeal and reach an ostensibly final decision, and then the Supreme Court’s decision makes additional court or administrative action necessary to comply with the federal law it announces with no clear path for resolution,” the justices wrote.

Bellows ruled in December that Trump was ineligible for the primary ballot because he violated the insurrection clause of the U.S. Constitution when he incited the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump’s legal team appealed her decision to Superior Court. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the Colorado case. Both rulings turn on similar interpretations of the 14th Amendment and the section barring insurrection participants from seeking office.

Trump’s legal team has argued that the former president’s actions did not constitute aiding or participating in an insurrection. It's also asserted that Bellows does not have the authority to keep Trump off the primary ballot.

Murphy’s ruling effectively delayed Bellows’ decision until the high court addresses the Colorado case.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Colorado case on Feb. 8. The primary elections in Maine and Colorado are on March 5.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.