During oral arguments before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday, the justices returned to a question at the centre of an effort to remove Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot: What is an insurrection?
But for the justices weighing whether to apply Section 3 – dubbed the “insurrection clause” – of the 14th Amendment to Mr Trump’s election eligibility, it requires pinpointing who gets to define an insurrection and when one occurs.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment contains a Civil War-era provision that disqualifies a person from holding office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” after taking the oath of office. However, it does not define insurrection or what it means to engage in one.
Voters in Minnesota have asked the secretary of state to remove Mr Trump from the ballot before the North Star State’s primary on 5 March. They claim the ex-president “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” for his efforts that led to an angry mob interrupting Congress’ election certification vote on January 6, 2021.
“Section Three of the 14th Amendment protects the republic from oath-breaking insurrectionists because its framers understood that if they’re allowed back into power they will do the same or worse,” Ron Fein, the attorney representing those seeking to bar Mr Trump, said.
“Section Three’s plain text bars Trump from ever holding office,” Mr Fein said.
But Nick Nelson, the attorney representing Mr Trump, refuted the claim that January 6 was an insurrection or that it was a disqualifier, saying it was more of a “political question” than an eligibility question.
“We would say that what happened on January 6 was a crime, some of them serious, was violence, some of it serious, but that it did not reach the scale or scope of what would be regarded as an insurrection,” Mr Nelson said.
Justices questioned whether the case before them would require an evidentiary hearing to determine if an insurrection had occurred and Mr Trump’s involvement.
Chief Justice Natalie Hudson went a step further, questioning if the court even had the power to make the decision, saying there was a need for federal intervention – given Congress has the power to impeach.
“Those all seem to suggest there is a fundamental role for Congress to play and not the states,” Justice Hudson said. “It’s that interrelation that I think is troubling, that suggests that this is a national matter for Congress to decide.”
By the end of oral arguments, it seemed there was still no clear answer.
Thursday’s hearing comes at the same time a similar case is being heard in Colorado in which petitioners are asking for Mr Trump’s removal citing the same clause of the 14th Amendment.
Multiple lawsuits using a similar argument have popped up around the country. The hearings in Minnesota and Colorado are the furthest the cases have progressed thus far.
Justices in Minnesota were asked to decide the case by 5 January so the state could prepare its primary ballot.