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Appeals court tosses Marjorie Taylor Greene bid to block candidacy challenges

After voters fought to remove the far-right Republican congresswoman from the ballot, she sued to prevent Georgians from being able to challenge a candidate's eligibility to run.

ATLANTA (CN) — After Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene argued a state law that allowed a group of voters to contest her candidacy eligibility is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court dismissed her case as moot Thursday.

The 11th Circuit ruled that because Greene has already been deemed eligible to appear on the ballot in the midterm election – for which early voting is already underway in Georgia – there is no active controversy and therefore the court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

Under the Georgia statue at issue, an eligible voter can file a preelection challenge to the qualification of a candidate for state or federal office with the secretary of state, who then decides if they can run based on findings presented by an administrative law judge.

In March, Free Speech for People, an election and campaign finance reform group, challenged Greene's eligibility to seek reelection on behalf of voters from her 14th Congressional District.

They claim Greene, a devout Donald Trump supporter, was involved in the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and violated a provision of the 14th Amendment that disqualifies from office anyone who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States. On the day of the riot, the 48-year-old self-described Christian nationalist objected to the 2020 presidential election results on the House floor and referred to Jan. 6 as "our 1776 moment" the day prior.

After counsel presented their findings and questioned Greene during a day-long hearing in April, Georgia Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot ruled that the voters lacked sufficient evidence to prove their claim.

In a retaliatory lawsuit filed against Beaudrot and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger two weeks prior, Greene asked a federal judge to prohibit enforcement of the state's candidacy challenge statue, claiming it violates her constitutional right to run for Congress.

The district court determined that the law protects a “legitimate interest . . . to ensure that candidates meet the threshold requirements for office and will therefore not be subsequently disqualified, thereby causing the need for new elections."

Greene appealed to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit, which heard arguments in the case in August.

A three-judge panel dismissed the appeal as moot in an unsigned opinion Thursday, noting Greene was not disqualified and is currently on the ballot.

"Accordingly, we no longer have the ability to accord Rep. Greene meaningful relief," the ruling states.

In a concurring opinion, U.S. Circuit judge Elizabeth Branch said that although she agrees the case is now moot, Greene was entitled to an injunction from the district court at the time she filed her lawsuit.

The Trump appointee wrote that the state "forced Rep. Greene to defend her eligibility...to even appear on the ballot pursuant to a voter challenge to her candidacy—thereby imposing a qualification for office that conflicts with" the 14th Amendment.

Branch said states can govern election procedures, but by forcing Greene to defend her eligibility to appear on the ballot, Georgia imposed a “substantive qualification rendering a class of potential candidates ineligible for ballot position."

The judge further wrote that she agreed with Greene's argument that the candidacy challenge law is "usurping the U.S. House’s role...as the final arbiter of the qualifications of its members."

Branch was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judges Barbara Lagoa, a fellow Trump appointee, and Charles Wilson, appointed by Bill Clinton.

While this appeal was pending at the 11th Circuit, the Fulton County Superior Court in July affirmed Raffensperger’s decision to let Greene stay on the ballot. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the voters' appeal of that ruling in September.

After winning about 70% of the vote in the May Republican primary, Greene now faces Democrat Marcus Flowers in the general election. She is expected to easily win reelection.

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