Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) has brushed off a legal challenge to his eligibility to run for re-election, but one expert cautioned the lawmaker not to dismiss the complaint so easily.
Voters in North Carolina challenged Cawthorn's candidacy based on a constitutional provision passed after the Civil War barring anyone from serving in Congress who had engaged in insurrection against the U.S. after previously taking an oath to support the Constitution, and law professor Harry Litman argued in a New York Times op-ed that the challenge might work.
"Mr. Cawthorn is being too quick to scoff," wrote Litman. "The 14th Amendment provision in question, while little known and not employed since 1919, is a close fit for his conduct around Jan. 6 — as well as that of at least a half-dozen Republican colleagues who the organization spearheading the challenge, Free Speech For People, suggests will be next."
Section 3 of the amendment added a qualification to hold office to the meager list already in the Constitution, such as requiring House members to be at least 25, a U.S. citizen for seven years and a resident of the state they represent.
"So, if the voter challenge succeeds in establishing that Mr. Cawthorn engaged in 'insurrection or rebellion,' he would be as ineligible to serve in Congress as if it were revealed that he is 24 years old," Litman argued. "Under North Carolina law, once challengers advance enough evidence to show reasonable suspicion that a candidate is not qualified, the burden shifts to the would-be candidate to demonstrate the contrary."
The North Carolina Board of Elections will set up a five-person panel from Cawthorn's GOP-leaning district, but their decision can be appealed and ultimately decided in time for the primary election set for May, but Litman argued that the first-term congressman's actions and statements clearly support the effort by Donald Trump supporters to disrupt the constitutional certification of Joe Biden's election win.
"If the North Carolina courts rule against him, expect Mr. Cawthorn to make a quick dash to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that it has final authority to interpret the federal constitutional term 'insurrection,'" Litman wrote. "At that point, a conservative majority that includes three justices appointed by Donald Trump might well sympathize with Mr. Cawthorn."
"But while it may be rare, the North Carolina voter challenge is no joke," he added. "The challengers have a strong case, and Mr. Cawthorn would be foolish to take it lightly."
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