The effort to get Donald Trump removed from the 2024 ballot over Jan. 6 has thus far failed to achieve its stated objective. But late Friday, it did notch a major victory: A judge ruled that while the former president can’t be disqualified, he did incite an insurrection.
A relatively low-level state court judge in Colorado issued the ruling, but it’s still a remarkable historic document.
And it has been a long time coming.
Denver District Judge Sarah B. Wallace’s ruling said that Trump’s conduct met the standard for disqualification under the 14th Amendment — that he “engaged in insurrection” — but that the amendment doesn’t apply to the president.
Wallace walked through the evidence for the first component of her finding in detail over 102 pages. She focused on the timeline of Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021 — which she said showed that Trump desired this outcome. And she documented his history of promoting and legitimizing political violence — which she said helps prove he incited the riot.
“The Court concludes that Trump acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol with the purpose of disrupting the electoral certification,” Wallace wrote.
She added that Trump’s “inaction during the violence and his later endorsement of the violence corroborates the evidence that his intent was to incite violence on January 6, 2021 based on his conduct leading up to and on January 6, 2021.”
Among her other key findings:
“Trump cultivated a culture that embraced political violence through his consistent endorsement of the same. He responded to growing threats of violence and intimidation in the lead-up to the certification by amplifying his false claims of election fraud.”“He convened a large crowd on the date of the certification in Washington, D.C., focused them on the certification process, told them their country was being stolen from them, called for strength and action, and directed them to the Capitol where the certification was about to take place.”“[T]he Court has found that Trump was aware that his supporters were willing to engage in political violence and that they would respond to his calls for them to do so.”She ruled that Trump’s inaction during the riot didn’t itself constitute engaging in insurrection, but that it was evidence “that he intended for the crowd to engage in violence when he sent them to the Capitol ‘to fight like hell.’”She wrote that Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet on Jan. 6 attacking Vice President Mike Pence, an hour after he had been informed of unrest at the Capitol according to a White House employee’s testimony, “caused further violence at the Capitol.”She said Trump’s comments after the fact show he “endorsed and intended the actions of the mob on January 6, 2021.”
Wallace is the first judge to rule that Trump incited the insurrection. (Trump was impeached by the House for incitement but later acquitted by the Senate, despite historic numbers of Republicans voting against him.)
Wallace is hardly the first judge to lay blame at Trump’s feet, however. Indeed, many judges have gestured in this general direction, including some Republican-appointed ones. They just weren’t tasked with deciding the incitement question, specifically.
The other big ruling on this front came last year from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter. He ruled in March 2022 in a case involving Trump lawyer John Eastman that Trump probably broke the law. Carter’s ruling said it was “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
While Carter was focused more broadly on Trump’s efforts to obstruct Congress’s actions that day, he called the plot “a coup in search of a legal theory.” He said it “spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government” and “led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers.”
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, in a case involving Trump’s Jan. 6 civil liability, likened Trump’s speech on the Ellipse before the Jan. 6 riot to “telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home.” He said that Trump’s speech “can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action.”
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a criminal case against a Jan. 6 defendant, noted that the “steady drumbeat that inspired” the defendant hadn’t gone away, including via the “near-daily fulminations of the former President.” In another case, she cited the “incendiary statements at the rally … which absolutely, quite clearly and deliberately, stoked the flames of fear and discontent and explicitly encouraged those at the rally to go to the Capitol and fight” to stop the certification.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that Jan. 6 involved events “spurred by then President Trump and a number of his prominent allies who bear much responsibility for what occurred on that day.”
And perhaps most strikingly, Republican-appointed U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled in another Jan. 6 case that while Trump’s comments were facially just about protesting, “one might conclude that the context implies that he was urging protestors to do something more — perhaps to enter the Capitol building and stop the certification.”
A Colorado judge has now concluded Trump intended just that.
And while his dual Jan. 6 indictments don’t deal specifically with the incitement question, we’ll soon learn how much fault other courts lay directly at his feet.