The Washington Times | By Mica Soellner and Kerry Picket | Tuesday, January 11, 2022
A growing movement on the left seeks to bar former President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers accused of ties to last year’s Capitol riot from running for future office. Advocates cite a Civil War-era constitutional amendment to try to brand them as traitors.
The liberal groups Free Speech for People and Our Revolution have sent letters urging election officials in all 50 states to disqualify Mr. Trump and his allies from qualifying for the ballot.
“On many levels, our democracy is under threat, and grassroots activists are ready to stand up to defend it,” said Paco Fabian, Our Revolution’s campaigns director. “We need to demand that our election officers follow the rule of law and ensure that current and former elected officials who participated in the January 6th insurrection are barred from appearing on any future ballot.”
The letters, addressed to the heads of state election boards, ask them to exclude Mr. Trump from ballots amid speculation that he may run for president again in 2024.
“Fundamentally, your authority and responsibility to exclude an ineligible candidate from the presidential ballot inheres in the interaction between the roles of Congress and the states in the presidential selection process. The states play a critical role in that process, but cannot act inconsistently with the U.S. Constitution,” wrote Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is refusing to cooperate with a special House committee’s investigation of the riot, said the effort to bar Republican candidates is “just Democrats acting like Democrats.”
“There’s no precedent, no principle, no norm that the Democrats won’t violate,” Mr. Jordan said in an interview. “They’ve kicked Republicans off committee[s], they won’t let Republicans serve on [the] select committee. They have closed the Capitol. They’ve enacted proxy voting. They want to make D.C. a state. They want to end the filibuster. They want to end the Electoral College. They want to pack the [Supreme] Court. They want to nationalize elections. The Jan. 6th committee has taken evidence and altered it and lied to the American people. So there’s nothing that they won’t try to do.”
Free Speech for People describes itself as a pro-democracy group that focuses on ridding money in politics and enhancing voting rights.
Our Revolution advocates for left-wing proposals such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. The group was formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and self-described socialist.
Although legal analysts predict the effort will fail, liberal activists have heightened attacks on Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 presidential election results and have tied them to the violence during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
The groups are using the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, to make the case of prohibiting lawmakers and the former president from running campaigns because of their perceived role in inciting the attack.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War during Reconstruction, disqualifies someone from holding office after taking an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution but later engages in “insurrection or rebellion” against the country.
The clause was intended to deal with Confederate rebels who went to war against the Union or provided aid or comfort to national enemies.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who also isn’t cooperating with the House committee’s probe, called the move to bar Republican candidates “a little over the top.”
“There’s a time and a place, obviously, for that,” Mr. Perry said. “And [the 14th Amendment] was put in for a very specific reason, and this isn’t it.”
The groups seeking to apply the clause to Mr. Trump also are targeting Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Paul A. Gosar of Arizona, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
Mr. Cawthorn was the first lawmaker to receive a legal warning of such an effort this week.
Free Speech for People is representing a group of North Carolina voters who are trying to prevent Mr. Cawthorn from being eligible for reelection this year.
At 26, Mr. Cawthorn is the youngest member serving in Congress. He took office last January, three days before the Capitol riot.
The challenge, filed before the North Carolina State Board of Elections, argues that Mr. Cawthorn helped facilitate an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
“The coordinated and violent Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the presidential vote was an insurrection against the United States. The Constitution disqualifies from public office any elected officials who aided that insurrection,” Mr. Fein said.
He said Mr. Cawthorn has made statements that aid their case and establish “reasonable suspicion” that he helped coordinate the riot. In a speech on the morning of the riot, Mr. Cawthorn said Democrats had engaged in election fraud and that Republicans were “hiding and not fighting.”
Mr. Cawthorn responded to the legal challenge by encouraging his supporters to organize and fight back.
“Left-wing activists are trying to stop me from fighting for YOU THE PEOPLE,” Mr. Cawthorn tweeted on Monday. “I won’t be stopped. Help me fight back!”
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, said the filing will “most certainly fail” because the legal definition of insurrection would not match the attorneys’ use of the word to describe the riot.
Mr. Turley compared the effort to a lawsuit sought by Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, against Mr. Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mr. Brooks for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol.
“These filings are very popular with many activists, but they will force courts to rule conclusively on these long-standing arguments,” Mr. Turley said. “It’s one thing to refer to the Jan. 6 riot as an insurrection as rhetorical flourish … but these lawsuits are using the word insurrection in its legal sense.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said there is a question about whether Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment against someone or whether the amendment is “self-executing” in the hands of private citizens.
“We don’t have a lot of precedent on it,” Mr. Raskin told reporters. “We’ll see what that court says because the alternative view is that Congress needs to act and Congress needs to decree that someone participated in an insurrection or rebellion.”
Regarding Mr. Trump, he said, “There’s also another view out there that [Mr. Trump] has already been determined to have participated in an insurrection and rebellion by virtue of his impeachment by the House … and then the determination by 57 senators that he incited violent insurrection. Although he wasn’t convicted for purposes of impeachment, it could be argued that a majority has established that it is a legislative fact that he participated in an insurrection.”
Mr. Turley emphasized that defendants could also point out that the Justice Department has not charged anyone connected to the riot with insurrection or rebellion.
More than 725 people have been charged with various crimes in connection with the riot, including destruction of property, trespassing and assaulting law enforcement officers.
The riot was tied to the deaths of five people.
Pro-Trump demonstrator Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a U.S. Capitol Police officer when she attempted to enter the Speaker’s Lobby adjacent to the House chamber.
Three other Trump supporters died during the riot, two from heart attacks and one from a drug overdose.
One Capitol Police officer died of a stroke, which a medical examiner deemed was a result of natural causes.
The riot left about 150 police officers injured. Four officers died by suicide in the days after Jan. 6.
A week after the incident, the House impeached Mr. Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection. The Senate acquitted him.
• Kerry Picket can be reached at [email protected]
• Mica Soellner can be reached at [email protected]
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