Minnesota ruling could help the former president get on the ballot in Arizona
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A new ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court could add ammunition to efforts by Donald Trump to remain on the ballot for Arizona's presidential preference primary despite a legal challenge here.
But John Castro, who also is running for president and filed the lawsuit, said the case being heard here this coming week is different. And he contends there is more that sufficient justification to keep the 45th president from having the opportunity to ask Arizona Republicans to nominate him to become the 47th president.
The underlying issue in both cases is the same: the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Enacted after the Civil War, it bars people who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding public office if they provided "aid or comfort'' to insurrectionists.
Free Speech for People, working with a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice and others, argued that disqualifies Trump from appearing on that state's March 5 primary ballot.
In an order this past week from the court, Chief Justice Natalie Hudson sidestepped questions of whether the former president's activities in and around Jan. 6, 2021 made him guilty of providing "aid and comfort.'' Instead, Hudson said there is no legitimate legal question before the court -- at least not yet.
She pointed out that Trump simply wants to be a candidate in the Republican primary.
"The Legislature enacted the presidential nomination primary process to allow major political parties to select delegates to the national conventions of those parties,'' Hudson wrote. It is the delegates at these conventions from all the state who choose who will be the party's nominee.
What that means, the chief justice wrote, is that while the state administers the mechanics of the election "this is an internal party election to serve internal party purposes.''
"Winning the presidential nomination primary does not place the person on the general election ballot as a candidate for president of the United States,'' she said.
And she said there is no state law in Minnesota that prohibits a party from placing someone's name on the primary ballot -- or even sending delegates to a national convention -- even if that person is ineligible to hold office.
The bottom line, Hudson told challengers to Trump's candidacy, is they could come back later to bring their claims -- assuming Trump does, in fact, become the Republican Party nominee.
All that is relevant because Castro, who has filed to be on the GOP presidential preference primary here and in other states, is making the same claims about Trump's Jan. 6 activities as he seeks a federal court order her to keep the former president off Arizona's March 19, 2024 primary ballot. He told Capitol Media Services he does not have to wait until Trump is the party's nominee -- assuming that is the case -- to challenge his candidacy.
And he said if Rayes were to follow the logic of the Minnesota ruling, "that would be wrong on the merits.''
The key, Castro said, is his contention that the primary is more than just a political party event.
"There's a reason why I'm not suing in any state where there is a caucus,'' he said.
"If there's a caucus, that's an entirely intraparty issue,'' Castro said, with the events run by party officials. "There's no state action in that.''
So, for example, he said he has no legal ability to stop the Iowa GOP from having Trump's name considered in the party-run caucuses.
That, he said, is not the case here.
"You have the state conducting the election,'' said Castro. "When you have state officials printing ballots with taxpayer dollars, and it's printing them with the name of a constitutionally disqualified candidate, that is state action.''
And there's something else.
Castro noted that Hudson, in her ruling, said there was no state law that bars the GOP from putting someone's name on the ballot based on a conclusion that person is ineligible to hold office. But he pointed out his case here is filed in federal court which Castro said he believes does have the power to decide whether there are constitutional violations in allowing Trump even on the primary ballot.
But being in federal court is no guarantee of victory.
Earlier this year a federal judge in Florida dismissed a bid by Castro to get a declaration that Trump was unqualified to be on the presidential ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to disturb that ruling.
That question of standing also is likely to arise at the hearing here.
Tim La Sota, Trump's Arizona attorney, is telling Rayes he should toss out the challenge because there is no chance that Castro would get the nomination even if the former president's name is not on the ballot. And he said there is no evidence that even if Trump is knocked off the ballot that his supporters would then vote for Castro.
Put simply, La Sota contends that Castro does not meet the legal standing to have the issue decided by a federal judge: some sort of "concrete injury.''
"That's not the test,'' Castro said, because it would get federal judges "too involved'' in politics.
"There are plenty of people that run for office without the intent of winning,'' he said. "They're running because they're trying to showcase (themselves) to be a running mate.
Or, Castro said, consider the case of Pete Buttigieg who had been mayor of South Bend, Ind. for eight years before making his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Castro said Buttigieg was actually running to become a member of the Cabinet. And he ended up head of the Department of Transportation.
"So it's not just a contest for delegates or for winning,'' he said, but rather a means to achieve "other long-term goals.''
And what of Castro's own real -- and realistic -- goals?
"I know there is very little chance I could actually win now,'' he said.
But he said that, at 40, he is the same age that Joe Biden was when he first ran for president in 1988. And Castro said he is sure that Biden knew he could not win at that time but was simply building name recognition -- recognition that paid off when he became Barack Obama's vice presidential pick in 2008 and what ultimately got him elected president in 2020.
And in the meantime?
"I want to be commissioner of IRS,'' he said.
"I got two law degrees in tax law,'' Castro said. "I could go in there, I could really modernize the Internal Revenue Service, make it a lot more efficient.''
And Castro said if he can get the votes of even 3% to 5% of Republicans, whoever ultimately wins the GOP primary will want to ally with him to get his supporters in a presidential race that in many states -- Arizona included -- were decided by less than a percentage point.
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