Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn gave his full-throated support to the effort to overturn the 2020 election and return Donald Trump to the White House, even speaking at the “Save America” rally in D.C. last Jan. 6, right before the former president’s supporters marched to the Capitol and stormed the building.
Now, activists in his home state of North Carolina are invoking a constitutional amendment passed during Reconstruction to bar him from re-election.
Cawthorn, currently the youngest person in Congress, was elected in November 2020 and has announced he’s running for reelection in the North Carolina 13th Congressional District in the fall. On Monday, however, a group of nearly a dozen North Carolina voters filed a challenge with the state Board of Election on the basis that Cawthorn allegedly supported an insurrection on Jan. 6.
The activists cite the 14th Amendment, passed in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, which says that no one can serve in elected office “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.” The challenge is also seeking the power “to issue subpoenas to Representative Cawthorn” and anyone else who can “provide relevant evidence.”
Cawthorn’s office dismissed the challenge in a statement to VICE News.
“Over 245,000 patriots from Western North Carolina elected Congressman Cawthorn to serve them in Washington,” Cawthorn spokesperson Luke Ball said in an email. “A dozen activists who are comically misinterpreting and twisting the 14th Amendment for political gain will not distract him from that service.”
The challenge cites Cawthorn’s statements in the lead-up to the rally and his speech at the Ellipse that morning of Jan. 6, 2021. Cawthorn remarked that “this crowd has some fight” during his speech, and said that “[t]he Democrats, with all the fraud they have done this election, the Republicans, hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice.”
During the riot, Cawthorn condemned the violence, tweeting that rioters should “back the blue now and let the objections continue in accordance with the Constitution,” and a day later he called the rioters “disgusting” and “pathetic” in an interview with the Smoky Mountain News. But in the year since, Cawthorn has downplayed the riot and described those currently jailed as “political prisoners.”
The State Board of Elections, which is controlled by Democrats, scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to form a panel of 13th Congressional District residents to hear the challenge, according to the Associated Press.
The complaint cites an 1869 North Carolina Supreme Court decision that set a precedent for what it means to “engage” in insurrection.
But ultimately, the 14th Amendment wasn’t enough to stop even Confederate leaders from holding office again. In 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act, which removed the barriers to Confederates holding elected office outlined by the 14th Amendment. A year later, former Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens won election to Congress and proceeded to chair a House committee for six years before being elected governor of Georgia.
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