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North Carolina Voters Challenge Madison Cawthorn’s Candidacy

Members of Congress are barred from holding office if they gave “aid or comfort” to those involved in an insurrection.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks to Trump supporters from the Ellipse at the White House in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

A group of voters in North Carolina has filed paperwork seeking to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-North Carolina) from appearing on the ballot as a congressional candidate in this year’s midterm elections, citing the lawmaker’s incendiary comments in the hours leading up to the January 6 Capitol breach.

Cawthorn has filed to run in North Carolina’s newly-created 13th congressional district this fall. However, some voters from the state believe that he shouldn’t be allowed to run due to his activities on the day the U.S. Capitol building was attacked by a mob of loyalists to former President Donald Trump. These voters have asserted that a provision within the Constitution prevents him from qualifying for candidacy.

Cawthorn, an ardent Trump loyalist, spoke at the former president’s rally outside of the White House that morning. During his speech, the North Carolina Republican repeated many of Trump’s lies regarding the election, wrongly claiming that Democrats committed “fraud” in the 2020 presidential race to secure a win for President Joe Biden.

Democrats and Republicans who refused to stand with Trump “are trying to silence your voice,” Cawthorn told the crowd that day. “Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard.”

Cawthorn also appeared to encourage the crowd’s violent behavior, lauding the fact that Trump’s loyalists “had some fight” in them. Hours later, many of those loyalists attacked Congress during its certification process of the 2020 presidential race.

Because Cawthorn played a part in encouraging the attack on the Capitol, a group of eleven voters filed paperwork this week seeking to disqualify him from serving in Congress, citing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. That provision, ratified in 1868, bars any person from serving in Congress (among other roles) if they’ve previously taken an oath as a federal lawmaker or officer and later “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States, “or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

The voters’ challenge asserts that the events of January 6, 2021, “amounted to an insurrection,” and that Cawthorn’s speech demonstrating support for Trump and false allegations of fraud provide a “reasonable suspicion or belief” that he helped those who sought to interfere in the election certification process, thereby breaking his oath to the Constitution.

The challenge is calling for the North Carolina Board of Elections to establish a five-member panel, representing each of the five counties that the 13th district encompasses, to consider the case against allowing Cawthorn to run again.

“The importance of defending the bedrock constitutional principle that oath breakers who engage in insurrection cannot be trusted in future office is essential to maintain,” said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People, a group backing the challenge to Cawthorn’s candidacy.

The voters’ bid is a longshot, as the provision was included in the amendment primarily to deal with the aftermath of the Civil War. Following the Capitol breach on January 6, however, several legal scholars suggested that the provision could potentially apply to Trump loyalists in Congress who helped encourage the attack.