North Carolina elections board asserts power to bar Cawthorn from 2022 ballot

North Carolina elections board asserts power to bar Cawthorn from 2022 ballot
U.S. Congressman-elect Madison Cawthorn speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, photo via Gage Skidmore.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections told a federal court that it absolutely does have the authority to block Rep. Madison Cawthorn from the ballot over his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Cawthorn has sued, trying to prevent the state board from hearing a challenge to his candidacy by a group of North Carolina voters.

The Civil War-era 14th Amendment to the Constitution has a provision that was intended at the time to bar Confederate traitors from Congress. “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State,” it reads, “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. ”

North Carolina allows challenges to candidacy based on a number of grounds and, since the group Free Speech for People has submitted such a challenge, it should be on Cawthorn to prove to the Board of Elections that he didn’t engage in insurrection or rebellion. Rather than simply proving that to the board’s satisfaction, he has sued in federal court, arguing that such challenges are too easy in his state and that the process infringes on his constitutional right to run for office.

Without ruling on whether Cawthorn did disqualify himself by participating in insurrection, the North Carolina Board of Elections asserted in a court filing that the process is proper.

“States have long enforced age and residency requirements, without question and with very few if any legal challenges,” the board wrote. “The State has the same authority to police which candidates should or should not be disqualified per Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Cawthorn keeps insisting that he would never participate in an insurrection, yet somehow he doesn’t want to try to prove that. He could take two paths to doing so: showing that the attack on the Capitol didn’t qualify as an insurrection, or that he did not engage in it. The former course would be fairly difficult since we’re talking about an event in which thousands of people violently attacked the seat of government to try to prevent Congress from doing its part in the peaceful transition of power, successfully delaying it from doing so. The latter course would involve Cawthorn explaining how his statement at a December 2020 Turning Point USA event, “call your congressman and feel free—you can lightly threaten them,” isn’t relevant, along with his Jan. 4 “It’s time to fight” tweet, his speech at the Jan. 6 rally before the storming of the Capitol, and his subsequent threat that “if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place—and it’s bloodshed.”

But Cawthorn doesn’t want to make those arguments with any specificity. He just wants to strip the North Carolina Board of Elections of its role in determining who is a legitimate candidate for office. And the board isn’t going to let that happen without a fight.

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