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Donald Trump to stay on Illinois ballot; board declines to remove him over insurrection clause of 14th Amendment

Former President Trump to stay on Illinois ballot
Former President Trump to stay on Illinois ballot 02:40

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Former President Donald Trump's name will stay on the ballot in the March primary in Illinois, after the state's election board ruled Tuesday it doesn't have the authority to determine whether he violated the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, the Illinois State Board of Elections agreed with a hearing officer's recommendation that it's up to the courts, and not the board, to decide whether Trump is barred from running for president under the 14th Amendment.

A hearing officer for the board retired Republican Kankakee County Judge Clark Erickson, had issued a report finding that while Trump engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, Illinois Supreme Court precedent prevents the state's Board of Elections from engaging in the "significant and sophisticated constitutional analysis" needed to rule on removing Trump from the ballot.

Erickson found Trump was involved in an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, by using false claims that the 2020 election was stolen to inflame his supporters and try to stay in office after losing to Joe Biden.

"The evidence shows that President Trump understood the divided political climate in the United States. He understood and exploited that climate for his own political gain by falsely and publicly claiming the election was stolen from him, even though every single piece of evidence demonstrated that his claim was demonstrably false," Erickson wrote.

However, Erickson held that the constitutional question of whether Trump violated the 14th Amendment and is not qualified to run for president again is a decision that must be made by the courts and not by the state election board.

The eight-member Illinois State Board of Elections, which is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, ruled unanimously to uphold Erickson's findings and dismiss an objection to Trump's candidacy, meaning Trump will stay on the ballot for the March primary unless a court challenge successfully removes him.

One Republican member of the board spelled out her thinking this way:

"This Republican believes that there was an insurrection on January 6th.  There is no doubt in my mind that he manipulated, instigated, aided, and abetted an insurrection on January 6th. However, having said that, it is not my place to rule on that today," board member Catherine S. McCrory said.

Before that vote, Trump campaign attorney Adam Merrill said the former president should stay on the ballot, arguing, "Mr. Trump did not engage in an insurrection."

The group who had objected to Trump's candidacy said they plan to appeal the board's ruling in court.

Matthew Piers, a Chicago attorney for voters who objected to Trump appearing on the Illinois ballot, said they plan to appeal the board's decision in Cook County Circuit Court later on Tuesday.

"We're disappointed, but we always knew that this case was going to be determined in the courts, not in front of the state election board," he said.

Piers said he believes the law is clear that the board had the authority to remove Trump off the ballot for violating the 14th Amendment, but wanted to avoid a controversial issue that would have ended up in court no matter how they ruled.

"What's happened here is an avoidance of a hot potato issue, and I get the desire to do it, but the law doesn't allow you to duck when a serious matter like this comes before you," he said.

Merrill said the Trump campaign is "obviously pleased" with the board's ruling, and would respond to any appeals that might be filed in court, but declined further comment on the ruling.

In a post on Truth Social, Trump hailed the board's ruling.

"Thank you to the Illinois State Board of Elections for ruling 8-0 in protecting the Citizens of our Country from the Radical Left Lunatics who are trying to destroy it. The VOTE was 8-0 in favor of keeping your favorite President (ME!), on the Ballot. I love Illinois. Make America Great Again!" he wrote.

While any decision on an appeal of the board's ruling by a Cook County judge almost certainly would be appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, and later the Illinois Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the final say, according to law professor Martin Redish of Northwestern University, 

Redish said he sees valid arguments for the court to allow states to remove Trump's name, but that's unlikely.

"I find it difficult to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court will allow states to remove him from the ballot," Redish said. "I don't know what offramp they're going to find, but I think they're going to try as a practical matter to avoid reaching that conclusion."

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled Trump isn't eligible to run for his old job in that state. Maine's Democratic secretary of state also has ruled that Trump cannot appear on the ballot in her state.

The Colorado court was the first court to apply to a presidential candidate a rarely used constitutional ban against those who "engaged in insurrection." Maine's secretary of state was the first top election official to unilaterally strike a presidential candidate from the ballot under that provision.

Similar efforts to remove Trump from the primary election ballot are underway in 17 other states, all making similar claims that he isn't eligible to run for president under the 14th Amendment.

All of them could be stopped dead in their tracks if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Trump's favor.

Trump already has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Colorado's ruling removing him from that state's ballot, and there is increasing pressure on the nation's highest court to say clearly: Can Trump still run for president after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol?

If the Supreme Court says it would be unconstitutional to bar Trump from the ballot, that would stop efforts to remove his name in all 18 states dead in their tracks.

If the court rules Trump ineligible for the ballot because of Section III of the 14th Amendment, the decision to remove him will return to the individual states.

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in early February. How soon they will make a decision will be up to the justices.

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