A Florida attorney urged a federal court to declare that Donald Trump is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a second presidential term, or any public office, due to his alleged participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
Lawrence A. Caplan of Lawrence A. Caplan PA in Boynton Beach petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida seeking a declaration that Trump is disqualified to run for public office under the 14th Amendment, which states that anyone who took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution can't run if they "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."
Additionally, Caplan argues Trump is also disqualified from participating in the upcoming Florida Republican Party primary scheduled for spring 2024 because of his alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results as Congress convened to certify Electoral College votes Jan, 6, 2021.
"On January 6, 2021, after giving a speech to a throng on the Ellipse near the Capitol, President Trump exhorted the throng to march to the Capitol and told them that he would be right there with them," Caplan stated in his lawsuit. "As we are well aware, the throng marched on the Capitol, forced their way into the Capitol building, ransacked the rotunda area, and even made their way into several offices of representatives and senators. Not for several hours were the National Guard called in to quell the insurrection as allegedly President Trump refused to do so and had been mesmerized by the events that were taking place on his television at the White House."
In his petition, Caplan cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which also "automatically excludes" anyone "from any office and position of power in the sovereign states and their many subdivisions" after they took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, then engaged in rebellion against the U.S. The amendment was ratified in 1868 as a measure to protect the U.S. democracy from anyone who fought against it.
Caplan notes in his petition that he holds no political affiliation and has cast votes for Democrats and Republicans over the past 12 presidential elections, and was a registered independent for many years. Following graduation from the University of Florida Law School, Caplan went to work for the National Security Agency, he told Law360 on Thursday. The attorney cited his work at the NSA if anyone decides to question his patriotism.
Since the Jan. 6 event, Caplan said "hundreds of insurrectionists" have been charged, tried and convicted of various counts related to that day. Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in the attack on the Capitol and sentenced to 18 years in prison earlier this year.
Trump himself was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month on charges accusing him of trying to overturn the 2020 election, including one count of conspiring to obstruct and one count of actually obstructing Congress' certification of Electoral College votes Jan. 6, 2021.
Caplan told Law360 that even though many people believed Trump participated in an insurrection, it actually took an indictment to trigger the Constitution's disqualification clause. Caplan added he became convinced Trump was disqualified from running for office again after reading an article published in The Atlantic by legal scholars J. Michael Luttig and Laurence H. Tribe.
"Up until then, I had been operating under the assumption that there had to be a conviction under the disqualification clause," Caplan told Law360.
In an opinion piece for The Hill, George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley argued the evidence doesn't support Trump's disqualification and that he was not charged by Special Counsel Jack Smith with either rebellion or insurrection.
But Caplan said that should not matter if judges interpret the 14th Amendment as it was written at the time, calling the case of disqualification a "slam dunk," although he believes there will be attorneys who'll try to argue otherwise.
Caplan believes his lawsuit is the only one so far that challenges Trump's eligibility for public office and that if it gains enough traction, it could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Caplan also believes he has standing, even though Florida wasn't a state in which Trump disputed 2020 election results.
While Caplan, 65, practices mostly tax, corporate estate planning and business transactional law, he thinks this lawsuit will be one of his last legal actions before retiring.
"The bottom line is that I felt that someone had to get this out there," he said.
Steven Cheung, the spokesperson for Trump's 2024 presidential campaign, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Caplan is representing himself.
Counsel information for Trump could not be immediately determined Thursday.
The case is Lawrence A. Caplan v. Donald J. Trump, case number 0:23-cv-61628, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.