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Insurrectionist Challenge to Cawthorn Blocked by U.S. Judge (1)

March 4, 2022, 6:56 PMUpdated: March 4, 2022, 9:45 PM

A 150-year-old law designed to let Confederate insurrectionists run for Congress also applies to Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and any other official today, a federal judge ruled Friday, blocking a bid to remove him from office.

U.S. District Judge Richard Myers didn’t weigh in on whether Cawthorn did anything wrong, instead ruling that the Amnesty Act of 1872 prohibited North Carolina election officials from investigating whether his words before and after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol constituted an insurrection.

Cawthorn’s attorney, James Bopp Jr., argued in motions and in court that the Amnesty Act nullified Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was passed just six years earlier to prohibit Southern politicians who actively rebelled from returning to Congress after the Civil War.

Myers agreed that the plain language of the 1872 law clearly lifted the prohibition against running for Congress, and if that wasn’t the intent lawmakers could have fixed it anytime in the past century and a half, WRAL news in Raleigh, North Carolina reported.

Myers ruled that Cawthorn was “likely to succeed on the merits” of his lawsuit against the state Board of Elections, according to the federal court docket. He issued an injunction stopping efforts to challenge Cawthorn’s candidacy.

Several voters, backed by a progressive advocacy group, in January asked the state elections board to disqualify Cawthorn from seeking reelection, arguing that he is barred by the 14th Amendment.

Cawthorn responded with his federal lawsuit seeking to keep the election board from acting.

A spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections said it’s conferring with its lawyers on whether to appeal, and the state attorney general’s office didn’t return phone calls.

Attorneys for Free Speech for People, which represents two groups of North Carolina voters who challenged Cawthorn, issued a statement calling for an appeal, but didn’t indicate it would file one. Myers has already blocked the group from intervening, and it’s unclear if it would be able to step in at this juncture.

The group said Myers’ ruling is “wrong on the law and would block the State Board of Elections from determining whether Cawthorn is ineligible,” the group said in a statement. “The ruling must be reversed on appeal.”

Bopp said that the effort against Cawthorn was a political stunt with no legal merit. While Myers hasn’t set a final hearing, the injunction effectively ends the case unless there’s an appeal, Bopp said.

“It’s a strange, complicated case, but at least it was done in lightning speed,” said Bopp, who sought a swift ruling as Cawthorn ramps up his reelection campaign. “I seriously evaluated the constitutional arguments, and there was nothing there. I don’t bring cases just for the hell of it, I only bring cases that I think will win.”

(Updates throughout with legal reasoning.)

To contact the reporter on this story: John Holland at jholland1@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at bkohn@bloomberglaw.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com