The 91-year-old Republican Suing to Kick Donald Trump Off the Ballot

Melina Mara/The Washington Post
Former Colorado legislator Norma Anderson is the unlikely face of a challenge to the Trump campaign that the Supreme Court will hear Thursday.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – Norma Anderson left the Colorado legislature nearly two decades ago but she still keeps a copy of the state’s statutes in her home office. She carries a pocket Constitution in her purse. She has another copy, slightly larger with images of the Founding Fathers on the cover, that she leaves on a table in her sitting room so she can consult it when she watches TV.

She’s turned down a page corner in that copy to mark the spot where the 14th Amendment appears. She has reread it several times since joining a lawsuit last year that cites the amendment in seeking to stop Donald Trump from running for president.

Anderson, 91, is the unlikely face of a challenge to Trump’s campaign that will be heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday. She was a force in Colorado politics for decades, serving as the first female majority leader in both chambers of the legislature. She is a Republican but has long been skeptical of Trump and believes he is an insurrectionist who crossed a verboten line on Jan. 6, 2021, that should bar him from holding office again.

“He tried to overturn an election,” she said. “The very first time I ever ran, I didn’t win. I didn’t go out and try to change the election. I said, ‘Whoops, work harder next time, lady.’”

The 2024 election could turn on whether the Supreme Court agrees with Anderson and five other Republican and independent voters who persuaded Colorado’s top court to rule that Trump is ineligible to run again. The justices – three of whom were nominated by Trump – are expected to quickly decide the historic Trump v. Anderson case, with their ruling likely to apply across all 50 states.

Although considered a legal long shot, a decision in Anderson’s favor would jolt American politics by preventing the GOP front-runner from continuing his campaign. However the justices rule, they are likely to displease a large chunk of an intensely polarized electorate.

The case is built on the 14th Amendment, which was adopted three years after the end of the Civil War to guarantee rights for the formerly enslaved and to prevent former Confederates from returning to power. That latter provision, known as Section 3, is written broadly to say those who engage in insurrection after taking an oath to support the Constitution cannot hold office.

Anderson’s lawsuit, brought with the help of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), argues Trump can’t appear on Colorado’s March 5 primary ballot because he engaged in insurrection before and during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Colorado’s high court agreed in a 4-3 ruling in December, and Trump appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Section 3 was dormant for more than a century but received new attention after Jan. 6. CREW spearheaded a lawsuit in 2022 that bounced a county commissioner in New Mexico out of office because of his role in the attack on the Capitol.

The debates over whether Section 3 can block Trump from office have not always followed clean ideological lines. Some prominent conservative scholars have contended Trump should be deemed ineligible for office, even as some liberals have argued the best way to shore up democracy is to defeat Trump at the ballot box.

Polls show the country is split on whether Trump should be disqualified. The former president has called the attempts in Colorado and other states to remove him from the ballot an anti-democratic attempt to interfere with the election.

Before attorney Mario Nicolais approached Norma Anderson to be part of the lawsuit seeking to bar Trump from the ballot, he asked Pam Anderson, the 2022 Republican nominee for Colorado secretary of state. She decided not to do it but suggested Nicolais try her mother-in-law. Nicolais, a research analyst for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign who is now working with CREW, was thrilled to learn a Republican luminary might consider signing on and called Norma Anderson. She agreed on the spot.

“The short answer was ‘Yes,’” Nicolais said. “And the long answer was ‘Hell yes.’”

Also signing on to the suit were a former Republican member of Congress from Rhode Island who now lives in Colorado; a teacher; a former deputy chief of staff to a Republican governor; a former executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Larimer County; and a conservative columnist for the Denver Post.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung called CREW a “front group” for Democrats that is using plaintiffs who are RINOs – Republicans in name only – to give themselves political cover. In a written statement, he noted legal efforts to kick Trump off the primary ballot in other states have failed. “We believe a fair ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States will keep President Trump on the ballot and allow the American people to re-elect him to the White House,” Cheung said.

Raised a Republican, Anderson said she was attracted to the party’s belief in fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and a strong national defense. She hosted a reception for Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona years before he became the 1964 Republican nominee for president. She oversaw Republican caucuses as a party committeewoman. And she knocked on doors to help GOP candidates long before mounting campaigns of her own.

She won a seat in the Colorado House in 1986, four years after losing her first bid. Her status as the first female majority leader means less to her, she said in an interview in her suburban Denver home, than what she considers her legislative accomplishments – creating the Colorado Transportation Department, rewriting the state’s school funding system and establishing a visiting nurse program.

During her tenure in the legislature, Anderson was considered a conservative who could work with others but knew how to get her way, said Dick Wadhams, a political consultant and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

“Once she decided where she was on an issue, she stuck to that,” he said. “She didn’t waver. And I think that’s one of the reasons why she was so popular at the time with Republicans, because she was strong. Nobody pushed Norma around.”

Mike Beasley, who worked with Anderson when he was the chief lobbyist for Gov. Bill Owens (R), said he had “watched her bring in the biggest bullies in politics and lock that door in her office and say, ‘Here’s how it’s going to be, boys. We’re going to work this out. We’re going to figure it out.’ And 9 out of 10 times she got her way 100 percent.”

Anderson surprised her colleagues when she abruptly quit the state Senate in 2006, a year before her term was up. She stayed active in politics but began to have reservations about a party that she believed was focusing too much on people’s personal lives.

When Trump was the party’s presidential nominee in 2016 and 2020, she voted for third-party candidates. She quit the Republican Party in 2018 because of Trump but rejoined it in 2021. “I thought, you know, I’m the Republican. They aren’t,” she said.

She said her Republican friends have supported her decision to join the lawsuit. “There’s other Republicans that think I’m a RINO,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t bother me.”

The justices on Colorado’s top court faced a wave of threats after they issued their ruling, as did Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) after she decided Trump should be kept off the ballot in her state. (Bellows’s decision was put on hold by a state court until the Supreme Court decides the Colorado case.)

Anderson said she knew she could face harassment when she signed up for the lawsuit but would not be deterred. “I don’t frighten very easily,” she said.

Krista Kafer, a Denver Post columnist who is another plaintiff, studied up on the case, prayed about it and consulted with her mother before deciding to join the lawsuit. She said she did so in part because she would want Democrats to do the same if a leader of their party did what Trump did after losing an election. And if Trump isn’t barred from running, she said, future presidents may incite violence if they lose their reelection bids.

“Only this time it’s not going to be, you know, a guy with Viking horns and a bunch of people with poles and makeshift weapons,” she said. “If this becomes the new normal, what does the next one look like? Bigger crowd, better weapons.”

Friends have been supportive, but some acquaintances have cut ties with her because of the lawsuit, she said. A neighbor told her she was worried she would go to hell. Others have taken to social media to label her, variously, a Nazi, a communist, a Satanist and a RINO.

Kafer left the Republican Party when Trump became the nominee in 2016 and voted for a third-party candidate that year. In 2020, she said, she reluctantly voted for Trump, figuring he was better than Joe Biden. She said she was horrified when Trump refused to concede and relentlessly repeated lies about the election that fueled the attack on the Capitol.

Part of what brought her back to the Republican Party during Trump’s time in office was his appointment of conservatives to the bench. She said she thought Democrats treated Brett M. Kavanaugh unfairly when they considered his nomination to the Supreme Court by focusing on allegations, which he strenuously denied, that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were teenagers.

Now, Kavanaugh will be among the justices hearing the case about Trump’s future, as will the other two Trump nominees, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. Kafer is not worried they’ll be swayed by who nominated them, saying she views the justices as fair brokers.

“They love the Constitution and they love the country, and they also know they’re under a microscope,” she said. “Anything that’s human is flawed, but the Supreme Court seems to me to be the most functional part of our system right now in that you don’t see them bad-mouth each other. They don’t tweet.”

Another justice, Clarence Thomas, has faced calls to recuse himself from cases involving Trump because his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, urged the Trump White House and lawmakers to overturn the election.

Anderson said she understood she might lose the case, but believed that bringing the lawsuit was worth it regardless.

Either way, she said, the challenge will help more people “realize how serious January 6th was and the fact that dear Donald was part of it.”

Melina Mara/The Washington Post
Krista Kafer is a plaintiff in the Colorado case.