Despite California’s historical role as a prominent opponent of former President Donald Trump, the state’s Democrats are now less eager to lead legal efforts to keep him off the ballot for the upcoming election.
This represents a noticeable shift from the time of Trump’s presidency when California Democrats vigorously opposed his administration. They even enacted a law aimed at preventing Trump from appearing on the 2020 ballot, though it was later overturned by the courts.
The current debate among California Democrats is marked by a lack of unanimity, a departure from their united front against Trump a few years ago. While Colorado and Maine actively work to disqualify Trump, California finds itself on the sidelines with Trump still on its ballot.
Jessica A. Levinson, a professor of constitutional and California election law at Loyola Law School, noted the change, stating, “This isn’t a question about immigration or reproductive rights. This is a question about, ‘Do we let the voters decide?’”
The public disagreement among California Democrats intensified after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump was ineligible due to his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis urged Secretary of State Shirley Weber to explore legal options to remove Trump from the ballot. However, Governor Gavin Newsom dismissed such efforts as a “political distraction.”
Weber responded to Kounalakis in a letter, emphasizing that the courts should handle any challenges to Trump’s ballot eligibility. Eventually, Weber announced on Thursday that Trump would indeed appear on the March 5 primary ballot.
Despite internal disagreements, some California Democrats, like Assemblymember Evan Low and State Sen. Dave Min, have taken individual initiatives to challenge Trump’s eligibility. Min proposed a bill inspired by the Colorado ruling, allowing Californians to sue to block ineligible candidates from the ballot.
This recent development contrasts with California’s immediate post-election stance in 2016 when the state positioned itself as Trump’s primary adversary. The state’s Democrats filed numerous lawsuits against the administration, introducing bills to challenge Trump on various fronts.
In retrospect, Levinson commented on the earlier approach, stating, “That was California trying to poke the bear.” Now, the debate revolves around whether Trump has violated the “insurrection clause” of the 14th Amendment, and some believe it’s rational to await a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even progressives like California Rep. Barbara Lee, involved in a lawsuit against Trump for his role on Jan. 6, support the idea of letting the legal process unfold. Lee stated, “Everyone — even Donald Trump — deserves their day in court. If we hope to strengthen and sustain our democracy, no Secretary of State should unilaterally decide who can appear on a ballot.”