The move, which comes amid several lawsuits to keep Trump off state ballots across the county, is unique because Bonta could use his standing as California’s top law enforcement officer to expedite a state court ruling on the matter. Should the effort succeed, California could be the first state to bump Trump off its ballot, even if the ruling is ultimately overturned.
Bonta would also be the country’s first state attorney general to take a swing at knocking Trump off the ballot. The other cases rely on secretaries of state.
Like the suits in other states, the California case would argue that Trump is disqualified from the ballot because the 14th Amendment prohibits any public official who has been party to an insurrection from ever holding office again.
“We all watched in horror Mr. Trump’s insurrection against the United States when he ordered a mob of his supporters to the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 to intimidate Vice President Pence and the United States Congress,” the lawmakers state in the letter which was obtained by POLITICO.
Bonta’s office said he is reviewing the lawmakers’ request. A spokesperson added, “There is no denying that Donald Trump has engaged in behavior that is unacceptable and unbecoming of any leader — let alone a President of the United States.”
Taking on Trump in such a high-profile way could also bode well for the attorney general’s political ambitions. He’s considering running for governor in 2026, when Gavin Newsom is termed out.
Bonta, as the attorney general, has automatic standing to proactively ask a court for declaratory relief, a process where a judge can quickly rule on an unresolved legal question. The lawmakers asked Bonta for “immediate intervention” on the issue.
Trump has pushed back against the campaign to keep him off the ballot, which has included legal challenges in New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Mexico and Colorado, though such attempts are in the early stages.
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung previously said it was a “political attack” that was “stretching the law beyond recognition” and compared it to the various criminal indictments against Trump, which the former president has described as witch hunts.
“There is no legal basis for this effort except in the minds of those who are pushing it,” Cheung told POLITICO last month.
Most efforts to remove Trump have focused on the theory that secretaries of state can unilaterally disqualify him on constitutional grounds. At least one lawsuit, brought by a voter, has already been filed in California calling on Secretary of State Shirley Weber to take action.
Weber, however, hasn’t ruled anything out. Her office told Playbook they are “carefully reviewing this issue” after receiving many requests to disqualify Trump. But Democratic secretaries of state have largely been skeptical about that approach, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be the final arbiter.
The high court could also overturn a favorable ruling for Bonta, should he decide to answer his colleagues’ call.
Assemblymember Evan Low, a Democrat from Silicon Valley who initiated the letter, said the strategy is all about pushing the courts to fast-track the matter. Dec. 8 is the deadline for Weber to declare which candidates are eligible for California’s primary ballot, and state Democrats fear other attempts to disqualify Trump aren’t moving fast enough.
“Whatever the courts decide it is important that they do so quickly to avoid further political strife,” Low said, “and the Attorney General is uniquely positioned to get the American people the answers we need to protect our Republic.”
The letter was also signed by Democratic Assemblymembers Alex Lee, Stephanie Nguyen, Kevin McCarty, Corey Jackson, Mike Gipson, Mike Fong and Phil Ting and state Sen. Josh Becker.