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Trump might not be the only one potentially disqualified from office by the 14th Amendment

A lawsuit seeks to knock North Carolina U.S. House Rep. Madison Cawthorn off the ballot over his actions on January 6, 2021.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn
Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaking to supporters of President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.
REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Just a teensy follow-up to my (only semi-serious) post of last week questioning whether Donald Trump’s efforts to overthrow the results of the 2020 election that dumped him out of the Oval Office might fall under the language of the 14th Amendment that precludes anyone who participated in (or even gave aid and comfort to) an insurrection against the government of the United States from future public office.

I don’t seriously believe that that’s going to prevent Donald Trump from running for president in 2024 (although that would be fine with me). But I’m not the only one thinking that way.

A group of lawyers is seeking to disqualify U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Republican of North Carolina, from appearing on the 2022 ballot seeking another term on the grounds that Cawthorn’s actions on Jan. 6 disqualify him for his actions encouraging the violent insurrection of Jan. 6.

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In case you missed my previous post, the 14th Amendment provides that:

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, 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.

Cawthorn, like Trump, took the oath to support the Constitution, then participated in what could certainly be construed as an insurrection (or rebellion) on Jan. 6. And the lawsuit seeks to prevent him from holding federal office, such as the one he now holds (and for which Cawthorn plans to seek another term to hold into the future).

I don’t expect the suit to block Cawthorn from holding federal office to succeed, but, really, what do I know? I’ve told you what the Constitution says, and I’m sure clever arguments can be used on the subject of whether or not it applies to anyone other than supporters of the Southern states who seceded in the 1860s. The language of the 14th Amendment is not time limited. It will be fun to see what the courts do with the Cawthorn lawsuit and what it might portend for Mr. Trump’s presumed 2024 candidacy.

Cawthorn might be particularly on the hook because of a quirk in North Carolina law, which sets a low barrier to shift the burden in such matters to the person running for office to prove that he or she is NOT disqualified to run for office.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t expect Cawthorn to be disqualified, but it will be fun and interesting to see what he has to do to demonstrate that, having previously sworn to uphold the Constitution, nothing that he did on Jan. 6 violated that oath.

A few facts about what Cawthorn’s actions on and around Jan. 6, including some that could be construed as encouraging or supporting insurrection, are covered in this New York Times overview of the lawsuit.