Appeals court clears way for bid to disqualify Cawthorn as ‘insurrectionist’
A federal appeals court in Richmond on Tuesday cleared the way for a legal effort that seeks to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-N.C.) candidacy for office due to his alleged role in the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of former President Trump.
The three-judge panel’s ruling reverses a lower court’s determination that an 1872 federal law that granted amnesty to nearly all former members of the Confederacy had immunized Cawthorn from the lawsuit brought under the 14th Amendment.
“We hold only that the 1872 Amnesty Act does not categorically exempt all future rebels and insurrectionists from the political disabilities that otherwise would be created by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Judge Toby Heytens, a Biden appointee, wrote for the panel of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
Although Cawthorn unofficially lost his primary bid last week, the court said the lawsuit was not moot since a primary winner has not yet been certified.
The court also underscored the narrowness of its decision, emphasizing that it was not ruling on the claim that Cawthorn had engaged in insurrection.
The two other judges on the panel — James Wynn, an Obama appointee, and Julius Richardson, a Trump appointee — joined in the judgment, but each wrote separate concurring opinions.
The lawsuit arose in January when a group of North Carolina voters filed a complaint to the State Board of Elections, alleging that Cawthorn’s speech before the Jan. 6 riot violated Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
That provision states in part that no person “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.”
In response, Cawthorn filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to have the effort dismissed.
In March, a U.S. district judge blocked the effort to disqualify Cawthorn, finding that he was covered by the 1872 Amnesty Act, with the ruling prompting an appeal by the challengers.
Cawthorn, a conservative firebrand who had tied himself closely to Trump and railed over unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential race, lost his scandal-ridden campaign for North Carolina’s newly created 13th District to state Sen. Chuck Edwards.