RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A federal appeals panel heard arguments Tuesday over whether North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn's candidacy for reelection this year can be challenged by voters based on a section of the U.S. Constitution addressing insurrection.
The Fourth Circuit hearing comes in a case seeking to disqualify the controversial Republican lawmaker from running for a second term.
Several voters filed a challenge with the North Carolina Board of Elections on Jan. 10, alleging that Cawthorn’s involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol constitutes “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States.
Cawthorn, a single-term congressman who represents North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, spoke to a crowd outside the White House on Jan. 6 just before hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Prior to the riot, Cawthorn tweeted that “the future of this Republic hinges on the actions of a solitary few . . . It’s time to fight.” An outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump, the western North Carolina native has made several false claims of election fraud.
In response to the voters' filing with the board, Cawthorn filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the board from pursuing a probe into the issue.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II ruled for Cawthorn last month, granting him a preliminary injunction that prevents the board from formally examining his eligibility to run.
The board is now asking the Richmond, Virginia-based Fourth Circuit to reverse the lower court and allow the challenges against Cawthorn can proceed.
Cawthorn's reelection bid was scrutinized during oral arguments on Tuesday as a three-judge panel debated whether the Trump ally's candidacy this year can be challenged ahead of North Carolina’s May 17 primary. The voters argue that the lawmaker's appearance at the rally before the deadly riot makes him ineligible to run based on a provision of the 14th Amendment that bars candidacy for anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the country.
Attorney Pressly M. Millen of the Raleigh-based law firm Womble Bond Dickinson expressed appreciation that the court was willing to hear the appeal on an expedited basis, especially since voters in North Carolina will soon cast their ballots.
Millen began by stating that “North Carolina would not be a state today if it had not explicitly agreed to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment on June 25, 1868…”.
“Let’s go to the issues,” U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn, a Barack Obama appointee, interjected.
Expressing a lack of patience for any fanciful opening statements, Wynn added, “You can only imagine this panel has thoroughly read this record and are very familiar with the facts.”
Cawthorn’s attorney James Bopp Jr. said his client vigorously denies engaging in insurrection or rebellion against the United States.
“But this is not about the facts, this is about the law," Bopp said. "This is about whether there are valid claims being made under Section 3 against him, can they be made by these proposed intervenors and whether or not the procedures that determine this comport with the Constitution."
U.S. Circuit Judges Julius Richardson and Toby Heytens, appointed by Donald Trump and Joe Biden, respectively, joined Wynn on Tuesday’s panel.
The Judges did not indicate when they would issue an opinion.
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a Republican, is among the attorneys behind the effort to disqualify Cawthorn.
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