Group challenging Trump’s ballot access in Cook County court hopes for quick decision

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Donald Trump faces legal review in Cook County court after the Illinois State Board of Elections rejected a request to remove his name from the 2024 ballot. (Capitol News Illinois illustration by Andrew Adams. Original photo by Gage Skidmore used under CC-SA 2.0 license.)

Judge asked to overturn Board of Elections ruling

SPRINGFIELD – A national voting rights organization is asking a Cook County judge to overturn a ruling from the Illinois State Board of Elections and block former President Donald Trump from being listed on the March 19 Republican primary ballot.

Lawyers for the group Free Speech for People filed an appeal of the election board’s decision immediately after it was announced Wednesday. They are also asking the court to decide the matter in just a few days, before local election officials begin sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Thursday, Feb. 8.

“We think the matter is urgent, both because of the overseas ballots being sent out on Feb. 8, at the earliest, and because of the nature of what is at stake here,” the group’s president, John Bonifaz, said in an interview Friday. “There should not be a candidate who was so clearly disqualified under our Constitution appearing on the ballot for president in Illinois or any other state.”

The legal challenge ran into a minor roadblock Friday when lawyers for the Trump campaign filed a motion to assign the case to a different judge. The case had been assigned to Judge Mary Trew, but in response to the campaign’s motion, the court quickly reassigned it to a different judge, Tracie Porter.

The Trump campaign gave no reason for its request. Illinois law allows each party in a civil action to make one request for substitution of a judge without cause.

“This is a transparent attempt to delay resolution of this matter,” Caryn Lederer, lead counsel for the objectors, said in an interview Friday.

Free Speech for People was founded in 2010 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held corporations and other outside groups could spend unlimited funds on electioneering. The group describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works for free and fair elections.

Following Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election, Free Speech for People began launching legal campaigns in hopes of preventing public officials who supported the rioters from running for reelection in 2022.

In June 2021, the group sent letters to chief election officials in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. They contended that if Trump were ever to run for president again, he would be barred by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits former public officials who take part in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding public office again.

The group also launched unsuccessful attempts to prevent members of Congress who expressed support for the Jan. 6 rioters from running for reelection in 2022. Those included Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, as well as Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, of Arizona.

In Illinois, the group is supporting five individuals who signed on to the objection that was rejected by the State Board of Elections and which is now being reviewed by the Cook County Circuit Court.

The elections board rejected the challenge on the grounds that it did not have statutory authority to decide questions of constitutional law. It also said there was no evidence that Trump knowingly made a false statement when he attested on his candidate filing forms that he was qualified for the office of president.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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