Minnesota justices explain why they left Trump on ballot now but could revisit later

An attorney speaks at a podium to the judges.
Donald Trump’s attorney Nicholas Nelson argued his case before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2023 in St. Paul. The Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments to keep former President Trump off the ballot.
Glen Stubbe | Pool via Star Tribune 2023

The Minnesota Supreme Court published more detail Wednesday about a November ruling that left Donald Trump on the state’s Republican presidential primary ballots.

The bid to bar former President Trump from ballots has played out in several states. Minnesota’s highest court was among the first to decide the matter. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is due to hear a Colorado case on Thursday where Trump was deemed ineligible for the ballot there, although the ruling was put on hold pending appeal. It is also based on arguments that an obscure constitutional clause about insurrection activity applies to Trump and therefore disqualifies him.

Shortly after hearing a Minnesota lawsuit last fall, justices here dismissed the case seeking to block Trump, saying presidential primaries are party-run functions.

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The unsigned opinion reflects a 5-0 decision in the case (two justices didn’t hear the case.) The opinion stressed that the winner of Minnesota’s primary won’t automatically become the party nominee.

“There is no Minnesota statute that prohibits a major political party from including an ineligible candidate on the presidential nomination primary ballot or sending delegates to the national convention to support an ineligible candidate; this is different from the Colorado primary statutory scheme that requires candidates to be ‘qualified,’” the newly published opinion said. “There is no error to correct here as to the presidential nomination primary ballot.”

But Minnesota’s justices haven’t ruled out revisiting the matter should a similar case be filed ahead of the general election. 

In Wednesday’s opinion, Minnesota’s court said deciding that now would require justices to use hypothetical information because Trump wouldn’t be the Republican nominee before summer.

“History tells us that a lot may happen in this election between now and the national conventions,” the court’s opinion read. “The dispute over whether former President Trump should be excluded from the 2024 general election ballot is too remote and hypothetical to be a ripe, justiciable controversy at this time.”