A judge in Georgia on Friday found that US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified to run for re-election, concluding that a group of voters who had challenged her eligibility failed to prove she engaged in insurrection after taking office. But the decision will ultimately be up to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Before reaching his decision, state Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot held a day-long hearing in April that included arguments from lawyers for the voters and for Greene, as well as extensive questioning of Greene herself. I have also received extensive briefings from both sides.
State law says Beaudrot must submit his findings to Raffensperger, who has to decide whether Greene should be removed from the ballot.
Raffensperger is being challenged by a Trump-backed candidate in this month’s Republican primary and would likely face huge blowback from right-wing voters if he was to disagree with Beaudrot’s finding.
A Raffensperger spokesperson said in an email that the secretary of state had received Beaudrot’s recommendation and “will release his final decision soon.”
The challenge to Greene’s eligibility was filed by voters who allege the Republican congresswoman played a significant role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that disrupted the US Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. That puts her in violation of a seldom-invoked part of the 14th Amendment having to do with insurrection and makes her ineligible to run for re-election, they argue.
Televised comments about ‘1776 moment’
During the April 22 hearing on the challenge, Ron Fein, a lawyer for the voters who filed the challenge, noted that in a TV interview the day before the attack at the US Capitol, Greene said the next day would be “our 1776 moment. ” Lawyers for the voters said some supporters of then-US president Donald Trump used that reference to the American Revolution as a call to violence.
“In fact, it turned out to be an 1861 moment,” Fein said, alluding to the start of the US Civil War.
Greene is a conservative firebrand and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress by stirring controversy and pushing baseless conspiracy theories.
During the recent hearing, Greene was questioned under oath. She repeated the unfounded claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s loss of her in the 2020 election, said she did n’t recall various incendiary statements and social media posts attributed to her and denied ever supporting violence.
Denied awareness of plans to storm Capitol
Greene acknowledged encouraging a rally to support Trump, but she said she wasn’t aware of plans to storm the Capitol or to disrupt the electoral count using violence.
Greene said she feared for her safety during the riot and used social media posts to encourage people to be safe and to remain calm.
The challenge to her eligibility is based on a section of the 14th Amendment that says no one can serve in Congress “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, it was meant in part to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.
Greene “urged, encouraged and helped facilitate violent resistance to our own government, our democracy and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding: “She engaged in insurrection.”
James Bopp, a lawyer for Greene, argued that his client engaged in protected political speech and was, herself, a victim of the attack on the Capitol, not a participant.
Judge says no evidence of participation
Beaudrot wrote that there’s no evidence that Greene participated in the attack on the Capitol or that she communicated with or gave directives to people who were involved.
“Whatever the exact parameters of the meaning of ‘engage’ as used in the 14th Amendment, and assuming for these purposes that the Invasion was an insurrection, Challengers have produced insufficient evidence to show that Rep. Greene ‘engaged’ in that insurrection after she took the oath of office on January 3, 2021,” he wrote.
Greene’s “public statements and heated rhetoric” may have contributed to the environment that led to the attack, Beaudrot wrote, but her statements are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and expressing such political views, “no matter how aberrant they may be.” “before she was sworn in as a member of Congress does not amount to insurrection.
The challenge to Greene’s eligibility to run for re-election was filed by five voters who live in her district, and the procedure for such a challenge is outlined in Georgia law.
Beaudrot’s decision is not binding on Raffensperger, who must determine if Green is qualified to run for re-election.