Rep. Madison Cawthorn who embraced the false claims of former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was "stolen" is now facing a legal challenge. Experts say it could end his tenure in office.
A complaint was filed last month stating that the North Carolina Republican should be disqualified for seeking re-election as Congressman due to his support of the Jan. 6 riot.
"Challengers have reasonable suspicion Representative Cawthorn was involved with efforts to intimidate Congress, the Vice President, into rejecting valid election votes and subverting the essential constitutional function of a peaceful transition of power," said the state Board of Elections in a complaint against Cawthorn. They also stated that Jan. 6's events "amounted to insurrection."
Cawthorn now wants to have the lawsuit dismissed. However, election experts warn that this won't be an easy task.
Michael Gerhardt is a University of North Carolina School of Law political science professor. He said that the residents who filed the suit -- the voters in the district Cawthorn plans for this year to represent -- have a strong case.
Gerhardt stated that there was a lot of evidence coming from Cawthorn himself to support an insurrection.
The Reconstruction-era clause of the U.S. Constitution is a key part of the legal debate. A North Carolina law allows voters to challenge the eligibility for candidates if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that they should be disqualified.
J. Michael Bitzer is a Catawba College politics professor in North Carolina. He said that it's not clear how the fight will play out for now.
He said, "We've never been in a situation like it before." "We are in uncharted territory."
The next step for North Carolina's state election board is to form a panel to decide the dispute. Cawthorn would have to prove that he isn't an insurrectionist, and that he shouldn't be disqualified.
The panel would release its findings. The board could appeal to them. The board would then issue its decision. This could then be appealed at the state Court of Appeals.
Cawthorn in his federal suit "vigorously denied" that he participated in an 'insurrection, rebellion, against the United States. Cawthorn is seeking to have the challenge dismissed on grounds that the process is "unconstitutional". This means that he has to prove his innocence and not the voters.
Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political science professor, stated that Cawthorn will have difficulty getting a judge to agree with him since the law has been in effect for many years.
Cooper stated, "It's been around for a while."
According to court papers, the Board of Elections claims that it has heard 12 election challenges over the last four years. NBC News reviewed the cases and found that most of them dealt with residency issues. Two cases resulted in candidates being disqualified.
Gerhardt stated that Cawthorn's case is different because it relies on a clause in Constitution's 14th Amendment. This was intended to prevent former Confederates holding office after the Civil War. It states that "No Senator or Representative in Congress shall have previously taken an oath as a member of Congress". . . To support the Constitution of America, must have participated in rebellion or insurrection against it, or provided aid or comfort for its enemies."
Cawthorn was sworn into office on January 3, 2021, three days after a mob made up of pro-Trump supporters stormed Capitol and stopped the counting of electoral vote during a joint session.
Cawthorn, a staunch Trump supporter was publicly supportive of the rally of the former president on Jan. 6 and spoke before Trump, praising the crowd's "some fight" in it.
Since then, he has referred to Jan.6 defendants as " politically prisoners".
Cawthorn stated that he loves the United States and has never participated in or would engage in an insurrection against it. Liberal Democrats are using the Disqualification clause, North Carolina's Challenge Statute, to try to destroy our democracy. This is done to make it appear that the People will choose the North Carolina representative in Congress.
North Carolina has never disqualified any candidate for office on the basis of the clause. This was after an ex-Confederate colonel, Zebulon Baird Vance, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
After President Ulysses S. Grant signed 1872's Amnesty Act, Vance won the Senate seat back. Cawthorn claims that the Amnesty Act should also be extended to him in his filing.
The Board of Elections stated in a filing that Cawthorn's argument was flawed because the Constitution predates an 1872 statute. It also said that it has the power to hear the dispute.
"States have enforced residency and age requirements for a long time without any questioning and with very few legal challenges, if any." According to the filing, the State has the same authority as the Federal Government to determine whether candidates should be or shouldn't be disqualified under Section 3 of Section 14th Amendment.
The board also suggested that Cawthorn's suit be dismissed. This was because Cawthorn's complaint against him, a 26-year old congressman, was placed on pause in anticipation of the outcome of a Court fight over redistricting within the state.
Bitzer stated that "we don't know in which district he'll run" at the moment.
Cooper stated that Cawthorn is likely to face a disqualification challenge depending on which district he ends up running in. However, it's unlikely that he will be banned from seeking reelection.
Gerhardt believed that it would be up to a judge whether Cawthorn’s words and actions were in line with civil definitions of insurrection.
He said, "The challenge brought against him was a credible claim." He stated that there must be some authority to settle this claim.