Cawthorn sues over effort to disqualify him from running for reelection

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit over an effort to disqualify him from running for reelection because of his involvement in a rally preceding last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Cawthorn filed the federal suit against members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections over what he said was an “unconstitutional” challenge filed to the body by 11 voters last month. The 11 voters claimed Cawthorn’s speech at a rally preceding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot violated the 14th Amendment, which disallows people who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from running for Congress. 

“Running for office is not only a great privilege, it is a right protected under the Constitution,” Cawthorn said in a statement. “I love this country and have never engaged in, or would ever engage in, an insurrection against the United States. Regardless of this fact, the Disqualification clause and North Carolina’s Challenge Statute is being used as a weapon by liberal Democrats to attempt to defeat our democracy by having state bureaucrats, rather than the People, choose who will represent North Carolina in Congress.” 

The suit, filed before the Eastern District of North Carolina, takes issue with a state law that says someone’s ability to run for Congress can be challenged based only on a reasonable suspicion or belief that the facts of the challenge may be true.

“North Carolina’s law is unjust and unconstitutional as applied to Rep. Cawthorn,” said James Bopp Jr., the lead counsel for Cawthorn. “The Challenge Statute violates fundamental principles of rights to free speech, due process, and federal law. Requiring someone to prove he didn’t do something based upon the barest of ‘suspicions’ is patently unfair and unconstitutional.” 

Among other things, the suit asks the court to declare the challenge unconstitutional “because its ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard is insufficient justification to trigger a government investigation” and to “declare that the burden shifting provision of the Challenge Statute is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it requires Rep. Cawthorn to prove a negative.”

Cawthorn, who has emerged as a conservative lightning rod since his 2020 election, is running in the newly created 13th Congressional District. In his remarks prior to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, he made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

“The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard.”

Cawthorn later voted against certifying President Biden’s victory, but he also ultimately signed a letter with other Republican lawmakers congratulating him on the win.

The voters who first filed the challenge cited Cawthorn’s remarks preceding the riot and that the mob’s unsuccessful attempt to halt Congress’s certification of Biden’s 2020 win “amounted to an insurrection.”

“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. We look forward to asking him about his involvement under oath,” said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People.

Tags Joe Biden Madison Cawthorn North Carolina State Board of Elections

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