A New Mexico state judge has removed a county commissioner from office after ruling that – because he participated in the attack on the Capitol on January 6 – the US Constitution banned him for having engaged in an “insurrection”.
It is the first time that an elected official directly associated with the attack has been disqualified from holding public office on these grounds.
New Mexico District Court Judge Francis Mathew barred Otero County Commissioner and ‘Cowboys for Trump’ founder Couy Griffin, citing a 14th Amendment clause that bars those who engaged in insurrection to serve – the only time in 150 years that the provision has been used to disqualify a public official and the first time that a court has ruled that the events of January 6 were an “insurrection”.
Griffin “incited, encouraged, and helped normalize violence,” Mathew wrote, calling his actions “overt acts of support for the insurgency.”
Some constitutional experts have suggested that the law’s article — despite failed attempts to invoke the same provision against GOP members of Congress and other Trump-backed candidates earlier this year — could have broad implications, in especially for former President Donald Trump if he runs for the White House again.
“The mere fact that it happened once, if it stands up on appeal, makes future challenges more believable than if no one had ever been disqualified for participating on Jan. 6… Until now, it seemed more hypothetical ,” said Gerard Magliocca, a constitutional scholar at Indiana University who has studied Section 3 of the Reconstruction-era amendment.
“If Griffin is disqualified, it’s kind of hard to see why Trump wouldn’t be disqualified.”
Known as the “disqualification clause,” this provision prohibits anyone from holding federal office who has ever sworn to protect the Constitution — including a member of Congress — who has “engaged in an insurrection.” against the United States or “gave aid or comfort” to its “enemies”.
“Griffin, as Otero County Commissioner since January 2019, has sworn an oath to ‘uphold and uphold the Constitution and laws of the State of New Mexico, and the Constitution of the United States,'” wrote Matthew in his opinion.
Convicted earlier this year of trespassing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Griffin refused to certify the results of the state primary election in Otero County in June. It is now barred from holding future elected positions at the state or federal level, Mathew said.
“You know, they’re trying to put this whole legal framework in place, because they’re going to use it against President Trump,” Griffin said in early July at a special session of the Otero County Commission, where he said. filed a motion asking the county to pay his legal costs in the lawsuit.
“We can take a stand here, we can take a stand at county level. We can fight back,” he said.
During the meeting, Griffin said he received no help from Trump-linked groups or the former president himself.
“I’m disappointed in President Trump as well. I’m disappointed that I don’t have any more support from them…I really feel like I was fed to the wolves and in so many ways,” he said . said.
The decision came amid a lawsuit filed by a group of New Mexico residents represented by the government accountability group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and other attorneys.
“This is a historic victory for accountability for the January 6 insurgency and efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. Protecting American democracy means ensuring that those who violate their oaths to the Constitution be held accountable,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. said in a statement. “This ruling makes it clear that any current or former public official who took the oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and then participated in the January 6 insurrection can and will be removed from office and barred from government service for their actions.”
The last time elected officials were disqualified from office using the Constitutional Clause appears to be after the Civil War in 1869, according to CREW, after the 14th Amendment was ratified.
Similar constitutional arguments were made, but failed to convince judges in Georgia and North Carolina, against GOP Representatives Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Madison Cawthorn. The case of the latter was finally stopped after losing in the primary competition for his candidacy for re-election.
Magliocca, a constitutional scholar at Indiana University who testified at Greene’s hearing, noted that Griffin’s challenge — compared to those against Greene and Cawthorn — may have succeeded because he was a local official.
“Another difference is that Mr. Griffin was a civil servant, not a candidate…so it’s simpler. Because, you know, you’re not dealing with an election, you’re not dealing with, you know , a very short time that you will have to make a decision from here,” said Magliocca.
“But also, the other thing is that in some cases you can say that the participation that can be proven for one individual versus another is greater or less. And I think, in the case of Mr. Griffin, the court found a lot of facts.”
Tuesday’s decision is a test case for the inevitable challenges to Trump’s ballot eligibility if he plans to make another White House bid, retired Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe told ABC News. and constitutional law scholar, who he says could be more effective in keeping him out of office. only through legal action.
“This is in response to an extraordinary event, which we hope will not happen again. I think it shows there is another avenue to hold people accountable besides criminal prosecution,” Tribe said. .
Yet one of the most significant aspects of Tuesday’s decision is that it formally declares that what happened on Jan. 6 was an insurrection within the meaning of the Constitution, according to Tribe and Magliocca.
“It’s a wake-up call. I mean, it’s not that the courts needed this opinion to read the Constitution, we can all read it. But now there’s an example. It’s really the difference between something that can be dead letter and something that has been successfully resurrected and used,” Tribe said.
“And I think that will encourage people in other contexts to invoke the fourteenth. but it’s definitely a start.”
Hannah Demissie, Quinn Owen and Rick Klein of ABC News contributed to this report.