A professor at The University of New Mexico School of Law was part of a team of attorneys that filed an amicus brief for the Colorado Supreme Court to consider in its ruling on Anderson v. Griswold.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last month that former U.S. President Donald Trump could not be listed as a candidate on the Colorado Republican primary ballot and is disqualified from holding office again because of his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. The United States Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in the case, last week.

Maryam Ahranjani

Maryam Ahranjani, the Ron and Susan Friedman Professor of Law and an expert in constitutional rights, education law and criminal law, joined several First Amendment scholars and attorneys from around the country in filing an amicus brief for the case in November.

“Judges rely on subject matter experts through the tool of amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs to provide insights into specialized areas of the law," Ahranjani said.

Led by Attorneys in Amici Steven Hirsch and Edward Hopkins Jr., Ahranjani joined Floyd Abrams, Bruce Ackerman, Lee Bollinger, Erwin Chemerinsky, Alan Chen, Kent Greenfield, Martha Minow and Geoffrey Stone.

“I was very honored to join and humbled to have my name next to these other attorneys. They represent the best constitutional law experts in the country."

Amicus briefs play an important role in the judicial process by allowing neutral parties to share specific legal expertise with courts that can help them weigh how to interpret the law based on historical rulings and opinions. A critical element in the Anderson v. Griswold case involved possible limitations of free speech for people who have been sworn into office to support the Constitution.

“Amici are Constitutional and First Amendment scholars and practitioners who have an interest in protecting democracy against the exercise of state power by individuals who, by engaging in violent insurrection against the authority of the United States Constitution, have violated their oath to uphold that Constitution. Amici likewise oppose the misuse of the First Amendment as a cover for insurrectionist violence,” the brief states about its contributors.

Trump argued his First Amendment speech rights protected the statements he made during and about the insurrection and, therefore, safeguarded him from being disqualified from holding public office according to the Disqualification Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the amicus brief, attorneys argued against Trump’s defense and contended that the speech freedoms protected in the First Amendment are not absolute. Specifically, they argued the First Amendment does not protect against speech that is: capable of triggering constitutional disqualification, integral to federal crimes, incites imminent lawless action, or which constitutes a “true threat” to others.

“Because the Disqualification Clause imposes a constitutional qualification on office-holding, its impact on First Amendment rights cannot be analyzed the same way that courts analyze the impact of a mere statute. Rather, the Clause stands on an equal footing with the First Amendment,” the amicus brief states.

Ahranjani was invited to join the amicus brief organized by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in part for an amicus brief in which she took part in the Couy Griffin case last summer. In that case, a New Mexico judge ruled the then-Otero County Commissioner must be removed from office for his involvement in the insurrection.

The amicus brief cited 28 federal cases, five state cases, 10 federal statutes, five constitutional provisions, and several other legal authorities.

Those interested may read the amicus brief in its entirety or the official Colorado Supreme Court opinion.