RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit over a candidacy challenge brought by voters who claim that his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol makes him ineligible to run for reelection.
“Running for political office is quintessential First Amendment activity and afforded great protection,” according to the lawsuit filed in Raleigh federal court late Monday.
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.
The voters challenging his bid for reelection claim that, under the 14th Amendment, the Republican representative “does not meet the federal constitutional requirements for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and is therefore ineligible to be a candidate for such office.”
In December, Cawthorn filed for candidacy in the state’s newly formed 13th District for the November midterm election. In his lawsuit against the state elections board, he said he “vigorously denies” that he engaged in insurrection, but did not address the factual accusations.
“Instead, this matter is before the court based upon various constitutional and legal challenges to the North Carolina challenge statute itself and its application here,” Cawthorn's attorney James Bopp Jr. wrote in the lawsuit.
Seeking to block the board from pursuing a probe into the issue, Cawthorn claims the election officials lack reasonable suspicion to trigger a government investigation.
U.S. District Judge Richard Myers II, a Trump appointee, will oversee the case.
Free Speech For People, a group representing North Carolina voters, brought the initial challenge in front of the elections board.
“When we have members of Congress or other officials who are taking their oath to support the Constitution and then trashing it as they engage in the insurrection, the Republican Congress that passed the Fourteenth Amendment wisely said that those people should never be entrusted with public office again and that is why we’re bringing this challenge,” said Ron Fein, the group's legal director, in a statement last week.
As Cawthorn’s complaint notes, the North Carolina Superior Court for Wake County on Jan. 11 issued a stay on all challenges filed with the elections board until a “final resolution” is reached in the ongoing litigation related to the drawing of North Carolina’s congressional districts.
On Wednesday, the North Carolina Supreme Court will hear arguments over the state’s new congressional districts.
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