ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Friday accepted a judge’s findings and said US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is for re-election despite claims by a group of voters that she participated in a riot qualified.
Georgia Administrative Judge Charles Beaudrot issued a decision just hours earlier that Green was eligible to run, noting that voters had not provided enough evidence to support their claims. After Raffensperger accepted the judge’s decision, the group that filed the complaint on behalf of voters announced an appeal.
Before making his decision, Beaudrot held a day-long hearing in April that included arguments by advocates for voters and for Greene, as well as extensive questioning of Greene himself. He also received additional documentation from both sides.
Raffensperger is being challenged by a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump in the state’s May 24 GOP primary after refusing to bow to pressure from Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. Raffensperger could have suffered a huge backlash from right-wing voters had he not agreed with Beaudrot’s findings.
Raffensperger wrote in his “Final Decision” that typical challenges to a candidate’s eligibility would have to do with residency or tax payment issues. Such challenges are admissible according to a procedure established by the law of Georgia.
“In this case, the challengers allege that Rep. Greene’s political statements and actions disqualify them from office,” Raffensperger’s decision said. “That’s a legitimate question for voters in Georgia’s 14th congressional district.”
The challenge to Greene’s eligibility was filed by Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, on behalf of five voters in their district who allege the GOP congresswoman played a significant role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot, who disrupted the congress. Confirmation of Biden’s presidential victory. They had argued that she had violated a rarely quoted part of the 14th amendment dealing with insurgency and could not run for re-election.
Greene welcomed Beaudrot’s decision, calling the challenge to her eligibility an “unprecedented attack on freedom of expression, on our elections and on you, the voter”.
“But the fight is just beginning,” she said in a statement. “The left will never end their war to take away our freedoms.” She added: “This verdict gives me hope that we can win and save our country.”
Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters. The group asked Raffensperger in writing on Friday to reject the judge’s recommendation. You have 10 days to appeal his decision in Fulton County Superior Court.
The group said in a statement that Beaudrot’s decision “betrays the fundamental purpose of the disqualification clause for insurgents in the Fourteenth Amendment and puts an end to political violence as a tool to disrupt and subvert free and fair elections.”
During the April 22 hearing, Ron Fein, a constituents’ attorney, noted that in a television interview the day before the attack on the US Capitol, Greene said the next day would be “our 1776 moment.” Advocates for voters said some supporters of then-President Trump used this reference to the American Revolution as a call for violence.
“In fact, it turned out to be an 1861 moment,” Fein said, referring to the start of the Civil War.
Greene is a conservative arsonist and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress by stirring up controversy and spreading baseless conspiracy theories. During the most recent hearing, she reiterated the unsubstantiated claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election and said she did not recall various inflammatory statements and social media posts attributed to her. She denied ever supporting violence.
Greene admitted encouraging a rally in support of Trump, but said she was unaware of plans to storm the Capitol or use force to disrupt the election count. Greene said she feared for her safety during the riot and took to social media posts to encourage people to be safe and stay calm.
The challenge to her eligibility was based on a section of the 14th Amendment, which states that no one may serve in Congress “who, having previously taken an oath as a Member of Congress … to uphold the Constitution of the United States, have pledged themselves shall insurrection or rebellion against it.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, it was intended in part to prevent representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.
Greene “urged, encouraged, and helped facilitate violent opposition to our own government, our democracy, and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding, “She participated in the insurgency.”
James Bopp, an attorney for Greene, argued that his client engaged in proprietary political speech and was herself a victim of the Capitol attack, not a participant.
Beaudrot wrote that there is no evidence that Greene was involved in the attack on the Capitol, or that she communicated with or gave instructions to those involved.
“Regardless of the precise parameters of the meaning of ‘engage’ as used in the 14th Amendment, and assuming the invasion was an insurgency, the challengers have presented insufficient evidence to show that that Rep. Greene ‘engaged’ in this riot after her 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, but they are protected by the First Amendment, Beaudrot wrote.
“Expression of constitutionally protected political views, however divergent, prior to swearing in as a representative is not participation in a Fourteenth Amendment insurgency,” he said.
Free Speech for People has filed similar lawsuits in Arizona and North Carolina.
Greene has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the law voters are trying to use to keep them from voting. This lawsuit is pending.
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