Capitol Brief: Lawyers hope for Illinois Supreme Court answer to Trump ballot question

Capitol Brief: Lawyers hope for Illinois Supreme Court answer to Trump ballot question

Arguments hinge on election board authority while insurrection question hangs in the air

Capitol News Illinois

CHICAGO — Lawyers representing Donald Trump and five Illinois voters hoping to see the former president removed from next month’s primary ballot sparred in a downtown Chicago courtroom on Friday. 

The case, which began last month when the Illinois State Board of Elections declined to disqualify Trump from this spring’s primary, could be decided late next week, according to Cook County Circuit Court Judge Tracie Porter. 

But despite Porter’s hope to file an opinion soon, that might not be the end of the case. 

“We have been proceeding with the understanding that this case will probably require resolution by the Illinois Supreme Court,” Carolyn Lederer, the lawyer who argued on behalf of the objectors, told Porter Friday. 

The central claim of the voters who objected to Trump being on the ballot is that he is ineligible for office because, they say, he engaged in insurrection through his involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Read more: Trump’s Illinois ballot challenge to move forward

But that claim, which is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court right now in an unrelated case, took a backseat in Friday’s arguments. Instead, lawyers largely focused on the authority of state elections officials. 

Lawyers for the group of voters who objected to Trump’s statement of candidacy argued that the elections board erred by relying on untested legal standards. They specifically pointed to the board’s ruling that the objectors failed to show Trump “knowingly lied” on his statement of candidacy when he said he was qualified to hold the office of president. 

Lederer said the Board of Elections has never required a candidate to have “knowingly lied” to disqualify them. The board sometimes disqualifies candidates due to issues like residency, she pointed out. 

“In addition to a complete lack of legal support, this new standard would be impossible to enforce,” Lederer said. 

That, in addition the ISBE’s refusal to engage in “constitutional analysis,” represents “profoundly problematic interpretations of Illinois law” according to Lederer.

Adam Merrill, one of Trump’s lawyers, said that while the actions people took on Jan. 6, 2021, were “repugnant” and “deplorable,” this case should focus more narrowly on the actions of the board of elections. 

While the objectors claim the “knowingly lied” standard is new, Merrill argued that it stems from the fact that lying on a statement of candidacy – as Trump is alleged to have done – would be perjury, which has a clear burden of proof. 

“This is not new, this is not different, this is not going to jeopardize candidates in the future,” Merrill said. 

Trump's lawyers also laid out a separate set of arguments based on federal law that echoed last week’s oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with Colorado’s ballot objection. 

They argued federal law should end the case for any of several reasons: Trump’s candidacy is a political question that isn’t appropriate for the courts; the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause doesn’t have the necessary legislation to implement it; it doesn’t apply to former presidents; it doesn’t bar someone from being president; and it doesn’t bar someone from running for office, among other arguments. 

“If the court or the board were to agree with the candidate on any one of these issues, it would end the case,” Trump lawyer Nicholas Nelson said. 


Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets 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.

Andrew Adams

Andrew AdamsAndrew Adams

Andrew has experience covering cities and communities throughout Illinois and his stories have appeared in papers from Chicago to Effingham. His unique blend of data-driven and traditional reporting help identify the throughlines of policy and politics.

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