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Colorado's Supreme Court has ruled that Donald Trump cannot run for president next year in the state, citing a constitutional insurrection clause.

The court ruled 4-3 that Mr Trump was not an eligible candidate because he had engaged in an insurrection over the US Capitol riot nearly three years ago.

It does not stop Mr Trump running in the other states and his campaign says it will appeal to the US Supreme Court.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-67768873

Is there a precedent in Western countries where a state court has prohibited a candidate from running for office?

Colorado's Supreme Court has recently issued a ruling stating that former President Donald Trump is ineligible to run for president in the state's upcoming election. The court, with a 4-3 majority, invoked a constitutional insurrection clause as the basis for its decision. According to the court's judgment, Trump's involvement in the US Capitol riot nearly three years ago was deemed an act of insurrection, disqualifying him as a eligible candidate in Colorado.

I am wondering if there were similar decisions in the Western world, which includes all European states, and Anglo-saxon countries such as Canada. Was there any attempt like this to prevent a candidate's name from appearing in the ballot in the Western world, citing an insurrection clause or any provision similar or not?

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    I dearly wish the related question's answers made that clear, but I believe some more precision is necessary: Colorado's ruling stops Trump running in the primary, that's stated in the court's ruling. I assume, but I am not sure, that it means running in the actual election is still allowed. Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 17:19
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    It seems unlikely due to the unique structure of American presidential elections, where each state is, to some degree, holding its own election for its own set of electoral votes rather than having a national popular vote. Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 18:22
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    It was widely done in the U.S. after the U.S. Civil War.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 19:41
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Running in the actual election is not allowed if the ruling stands.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 19:42
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    "Is there a precedent in Western countries where a state court has prohibited a candidate from running for office?" You will need to reword this in order for it to make sense. Many Western countries do not have "states". Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 19:47

3 Answers 3

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Question:

Is there a precedent in Western countries where a state court has prohibited a candidate from running for office?

Technically the Colorado state supreme court only prohibited President Trump from appearing on the ballot in Colorado. Ignoring that and responding to the question:

Yes.

In the United States.

In the 19th century:

  • 1869, Kenneth H. Worthy, was prohibited from running for county sheriff by the North Carolina Supreme Court Worthy v. Barrett
  • 1869, William L. Tate, prohibited from State Solicitor's office by North Carolina Supreme Court
  • 1869, J.D. Watkins, was prohibited from running for State Judge by Louisiana Supreme Court. Sandlin v. Watkins

In the 21st century

  • 2022, Couy Griffin was prohibited from serving as County Commissioner New Mexico, White v. Griffin, New Mexico State District Court

To Ban President Trump from the Presidential Office it would take a Supreme Court ruling, not a state court. A western country's who's judiciary has taken such a step.

In 2023, Brazil's former President Bolsonaro was barred from running for office until 2030 by the Superior Electoral Court.

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    "To Ban President Trump from the Presidential Office it would take a Supreme Court ruling, not a state court." Incorrect.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 19:43
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    @ohwilleke technically you are correct. But practically incorrect. This thing is going to the supreme court and that court is the only court which can ban him from office across all 50 states. Yes if all 50 states or some majority of state courts banned him from their ballots and the supreme court refused to hear the case that would work too, but I would say refusing to hear the case, is still a ruling. That's not going to happen though.
    – JMS
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 20:04
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    The states are finial arbitrators for how elections are held in the state including who gets on the ballot and what is required to do so. It isn't uncommon for a third party candidate to get on the ballot in some states and not others and you won't see a court case objecting to that. As far as precedent goes including Trump it has only been invoked 3 times outside of the civil war. One of those was congress refusing to seat someone and the second was a judge deciding to remove someone from office.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 22:13
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    @uberhaxed, I believe it's both. He can 't be on the Republican Primary Ballot, in Colorado. He also is barred from appearing on the ballot in the general election for the state of Colorado. The Colorado supreme court unlike the lower court ruled if the 14th bars him from the General then he can't appear on the Primary ballot either. Coarse they suspended enforcing the ruling until early next year to give the supreme court time to weigh in.
    – JMS
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 22:51
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A number of countries use ineligibility for public office as a secondary penalty in case of convictions for serious crimes. Rules differ widely, but there seems to be a trend to make it necessary that judges hand out these disenfranchisements individually, and only for a limited time.

A consequence of this procedure is that no court would rule that an existing candidate has to be excluded, but that the election official in charge of registering candidates would just tell the concerned that his/her registration was not possible – end of story.

So far, I have not found a comparative list of laws for different countries, so I am quoting only three.

It should be obvious, but legal terminology in several languages tend to make a bit of a mixup between the right to vote and the right to be elected. This answer is only concerned with the right to be elected.

France

The "interdiction of public, civil and familial rights" is obligatory in cases of a number of serious crimes and delicts. The length of time the rights are withheld differ, ranging from a maximum of 3 years for voter fraud, a maximum of 5 years for delicts, to a minimum of 10 years for persons committing the crime in the course of discharging their duties as an elected official or as a member of the government. Whether the interdiction is applied, and for which length of time, has to be decided individually by the judge in charge of the criminal case. An automatic application had been bared in 2010 by the Constitutional Court.

While there are tens of thousands of cases each year where this penalty is handed out, there is one recent case that stands out: In 2021, former French president Nicholas Sarkozy was convicted for corruption. In May 2023, the appelation court confirmed the conviction, handed out a three year prison sentence (with the option to serve it in house arrest) and stripped him of his public rights for three years. Since Sarkozy is seeking recourse at the Court of Cassation, the penalty is not yet put into effect.

Italy

The interdiction of holding a public office is coupled with other restrictions like the right to vote and to fulfill roles like a conservatorship. It can be for a limited time or for life. A prison sentence of five years or more, or a conviction of being a "habitual or professional criminal" automatically leads to a permament exclusion, sentences of three to five years to an exclusion of five years.

Additionally, an anti-corruption law from 2012 blocks persons convicted of corruption of standing for elected offices for a period of six years.

The most prominent case was that of Silvio Berlusconi. The longtime Italian Prime Minister, having been handed dozens of indictments throughout his career, was once convicted in 2013 for tax fraud. After going through the appelation and cassation process, in June 2013 he was finally sentenced to four years in prison. Three years were pardoned, and because of his age Berlusconi was able to dodge serving the prison time by doing community service. Under the anti-corruption law, he was bared from seeking public office until 2019.

This left the question what would happen with Berlusconi's seat in the Senate (the upper house), won in the public elections in February of the same year. Under the mentioned law, the Senate was obliged to vote on his expulsion. Deliberations took some time, but in November he was stripped of his membership.

Only in 2019 Berlusconi was able to seek election again, this time for a seat in the European Parliament.

Germany

In case of conviction for a felony with a minimum sentence of one year, the convict loses his right to hold a public office or to stand in a public election for five years, and would be removed if he already held that office or elected position.

Theoretically, the Constitutional Court would have the right to withdraw the right to vote and to be elected for longer times, even for life, in cases where a felon abused basic civil rights like freedom of speech, the right of assembly or others to fight against the democratic order. But all four cases that have been heard by the court based on that allegation were dismissed.

Here are some links for other countries (Maybe others can point me in the direction of laws in more countries):

So far, I have not found any common law countries using the withdrawal of the right to be elected as a collateral penalty.


¹ A honorary mention should go to Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, who first got sentenced to several years in jail and a ban of taking a public office in 2015, for a crime committed while serving as head and deputy head of the Central Anti-corruption Bureau. Despite that, with a combination of appeals, a controversial presidential pardon and several courts fighting over the case, Kamiński was able to be elected to the Sejm (parlament) three times and served as a minister from 2015 to 2023. Wąsik got elected two times and served as a state secretary from 2015 to 2023. Only in December 2023 the Marshall of the Sejm renounced their membership in the parlament – and the affair goes on: the Supreme Court overturned this decision, the district court ordered their detention, which was executed despite them seeking refuge in the offices of the Polish President, and for now they are sitting behind bars.

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    Berlusconi is another example of someone who was a Prime Minister at one point, and subsequently received a public office ban. Also, not a western country but Musharraf was a president at one point, but upon running again in 2013 the high courts disqualified him, though Pakistan is not a full democracy in any case. Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 13:19
  • @RomanStarkov Thank you for reminding me, I had forgotten about Berlusconi, who obviously deserves his own section. Added.
    – ccprog
    Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 14:37
  • We need RK statistic. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 4:45
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In general, it's quite routine for courts to keep candidates off the ballot when they are determined to lack the required qualifications for the office. There is a report by the non-governmental Project on Government Oversight that describes the background and lists ten specific examples.

But usually, they are not particularly "exciting" cases. Often they are for minor local offices, or they concern "fringe" candidates who never had any realistic chance to win and so their disqualification is not newsworthy.

Sometimes there is an objective qualification (e.g. age) that the candidate obviously doesn't meet, but they are trying to run anyway to make a political statement. Sometimes there are more substantive disputes. For local offices, residency requirements are common, and you fairly often hear of cases where Candidate X is running for mayor of Town A, but owns a second home in Town B, and a rival alleges that the latter is their primary residence.

Of course, many more such cases never reach court. Often the candidate drops out voluntarily as soon as their ineligibility comes to light. Some jurisdictions also delegate such decisions to other election officials rather than courts, though a candidate may be able to go to court to challenge the decision.

What makes the Trump case novel is not the mere fact of a court removing a candidate from the ballot. It's the combination of (1) the high office involved; (2) that the candidate is one of the front-runners rather than a fringe candidate; and (3) the alleged reason for ineligibility being the Insurrection Clause instead of something more mundane.


Here is a brief summary of the cases discussed in the POGO report:

  1. A former New York Times columnist running for governor of Oregon was removed from the ballot for not having been resident in the state for three years, as the Oregon Constitution requires. The court found that he actually lived in New York.

  2. A candidate for Attorney General of Connecticut was removed for not meeting a requirement that the office-holder must have 10 years of experience practicing law.

  3. A candidate for US President was removed from the ballot in Colorado because he was not a natural-born citizen, having been born in Guyana.

  4. Several candidates for state and local offices in Nevada were removed from the ballot because they were ineligible due to term limits. (There was a question about how to count the terms of officials who were already in office when the term limit amendment took effect.)

  5. A mayoral candidate in Delaware was removed because they had been convicted of an "infamous crime", which makes a person ineligible for office under the Delaware Constitution. (The dispute was over whether the crime was "infamous", as the conviction was for a misdemeanor under Ohio law, but would have been a felony under Delaware law.)

  6. A court in New Jersey removed a presidential/VP running mate pair from the ballot because both of them were New Jersey residents, so that under the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution, New Jersey's electors would not have been able to vote for them.

  7. A court in Illinois removed a candidate for US President because she was only 31 years old.

  8. A city council candidate in Texas was removed for having been convicted of a felony, which Texas law says would make a person ineligible for office.

  9. A court in Oklahoma prevented a state senator from running for state labor commissioner, because of a provision in the Oklahoma Constitution that a legislator may not later hold an office whose salary increased during the legislator's term.

  10. In Idaho, a judge was forbidden to run for re-election because he was over the mandatory retirement age.

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