Election Board Says It Can Bar Rep. Cawthorn's Candidacy If He Violated Constitution

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has hit back at a lawsuit by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) declaring that it does have the power to block his reelection following a constitutional challenge to his next campaign.

Cawthorn’s reelection bid is being challenged in a complaint before the board from state voters over the Republican’s support for last year’s riot at the U.S. Capitol. It cites Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, adopted in the wake of the Civil War, which bars lawmakers who have “engaged in insurrection” — or helped others to do so — against the U.S. government.

“Publicly available evidence, including Rep. Cawthorn’s statements and reports that he or his office coordinated with the Jan. 6 organizers, establish reasonable suspicion that Rep. Cawthorn aided the insurrection, thereby disqualifying him from federal office,” said Ron Fein, legal director of the nonpartisan Free Speech for People, which filed the complaint on behalf of 13 voters.

Cawthorn argued in a responding lawsuit that it would be “unconstitutional” for the election board to block his candidacy. “Running for political office is quintessential First Amendment activity and afforded great protection,” the suit stated.

He also “vigorously denies” in the suit that he engaged in “‘insurrection or rebellion’ against the United States.”

Though the board isn’t taking a stand on the specific challenge to Cawthorn’s candidacy until a hearing, its suit, filed early this week, states that it has the authority to determine if he’s eligible to run.

“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.”

“We haven’t seen challenges like this since the last 100 years,” Chris Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University, told ABC-TV affiliate WLOS. “We’re talking about something that was put in to keep Confederates out of the federal government, and we’re having that conversation again.”

He said the challenge could end up affecting another run for the presidency by Donald Trump, whose supporters attacked the Capitol while Congress met to certify the Electoral College count on Jan. 6, 2021, in the belief they could help overturn Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.

Under state law, the challenges to Cawthorn’s candidacy will first be heard by a multi-county panel, which would be appointed by the State Board of Elections. After the hearing, the panel would issue written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Its decision can be appealed by either side to the state board — and the board’s decision can be appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.