Candidates who take part in an insurrection may be barred from holding public office under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled, overturning a lower court judge’s decision.
The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Tuesday in a challenge to former North Carolina Representative
While the ruling is legally binding only in the states that make up the 4th Circuit -- Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina -- it could influence the outcome of legal challenges to multiple Republican House candidates tagged by critics for participating in events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
“To ask such a question is nearly to answer it,” Heytens wrote in Tuesday’s ruling. The 19th century law shielding candidates from the eligibility bar only applies to acts that occurred before it was enacted, he said.
The opinion from the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court sends the case back to lower court in Raleigh, North Carolina, to be reconsidered.
Two other judges on the panel wrote concurring opinions: Julius N. Richardson, appointed by Trump, and
The lower-court judge,
Cawthorn had argued the appeals case didn’t need to be decided, according to the opinion, because he had already lost a May 17 primary. The appeals court disagreed, because a winner hasn’t been certified and the lawsuit hadn’t been withdrawn.
Under the law in North Carolina law, a voter registered in the same district can challenge a politician’s candidacy on grounds he or she doesn’t meet required qualifications for office, according to the appeals court decision.
Voters in Cawthorn’s district filed such a challenge because he “encouraged the violent mob that disrupted the peaceful transition of power by invading the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021,” according to the opinion. “That encouragement constituted ‘insurrection’ and disqualifies Representative Cawthorn for further service in Congress,” according to the challenge.
In response, Cawthorn, aiming to stop the challenge, sued members of the state board of elections in federal court.
(Updates with request for response from Cawthorn’s lawyer)
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