A legal challenge filed in North Carolina Monday says that Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn should be disqualified from running for reelection to Congress in 2022 after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The complaint, which was first reported by The Associated Press, is being backed by James Exum Jr., a Democrat and the former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, as well as former Republican N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a vocal critic of Donald Trump and his congressional allies like Cawthorn.
It claims that the third section of the 14th Amendment, written to prevent former Confederate leaders from serving in Congress after the Civil War, should also apply to current members of Congress who supported Trump’s failed effort to overturn the 2020 election that put Democratic President Joe Biden in office.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states, in part, “No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress. . . who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
The complaint says there is reason to suspect that “Cawthorn was involved in planning efforts to intimidate Congress and the Vice President into rejecting valid electoral votes and subvert the essential constitutional function of an orderly and peaceful transition of power.” The complaint adds that Cawthorn and other GOP officials, including Trump, took actions that “led directly, intentionally, and foreseeably to the insurrectionists’ violent assault on the Capitol.”
Nonprofit organization Free Speech for People, a “nonpartisan, non-profit legal advocacy organization with constitutional law expertise,” which is serving as lead counsel in the matter, announced on Monday that the challenge was filed before the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
“As set forth in our complaint, the publicly available evidence, including Representative Cawthorn’s own statements and reports that he or his office coordinated with the January 6 organizers, establish reasonable suspicion that Representative Cawthorn aided the insurrection, thereby disqualifying him from federal office,” Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, said in the press release. “We look forward to asking him about his involvement under oath.”
Monday’s release cites North Carolina’s candidacy challenge statute, which states any registered voter can challenge someone’s candidacy based on “reasonable suspicion or belief” that the “candidate does not meet the constitutional or statutory qualifications for the office.” Once a challenge is filed, the burden of proof shifts to the candidate, who “must show by a preponderance of the evidence . . . that he or she is qualified to be a candidate for the office.” The statute authorizes “depositions prior to the hearing, if requested by the challenger,” and “subpoenas for witnesses or documents . . . including a subpoena of the candidate.”
Free Speech for People says the challenge will first be heard by a multi-county panel, which will be appointed by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. After the hearing, the panel will issue written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Its decision can be appealed by either side to the State Board, and the State Board’s decision can be appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
In a tweet, Cawthorn responded to the suit, saying, “Left-wing activists are trying to stop me from fighting for YOU THE PEOPLE! I won’t be stopped. Help me fight back!” adding a fundraising link.
Left-wing activists are trying to stop me from fighting for YOU THE PEOPLE!
— Madison Cawthorn (@CawthornforNC) January 10, 2022