A judge in Georgia on Friday found U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene qualified to run for re-election, concluding that a group of voters who had questioned her eligibility failed to prove she participated in an insurrection after taking office. But the decision will ultimately rest with Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Before reaching his decision, state Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot held a day-long hearing in April that included arguments from attorneys for the voters and Greene, as well as extensive cross-examination from Greene herself. He too received extensive briefings from both sides.
State law says Beaudrot must present his findings to Raffensperger, who must decide whether Greene should be removed from the ballot.
Raffensperger is being challenged by a Trump-backed candidate in this month’s Republican primary and would likely face a major setback from right-wing voters if he disagreed with Beaudrot’s finding.
A Raffensperger spokesman said in an email that the secretary of state had received Beaudrot’s recommendation and “will publish his final decision soon.”
Greene’s eligibility challenge was filed by voters who allege the Republican congresswoman played a significant role in the January 6, 2021 riots that disrupted the US Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. . That puts her in violation of a rarely invoked part of the 14th Amendment that has to do with insurrection and makes her ineligible to run for re-election, they argue.
Televised commentary on the ‘1776 moment’
During the April 22 hearing on the challenge, Ron Fein, an attorney for the voters who filed the challenge, noted that in a television interview the day before the attack on the US Capitol, Greene said that the day after it would be “our moment 1776”. Voters’ lawyers said some supporters of then-US President Donald Trump used that reference to the American Revolution as a call to violence.
“It actually turned out to be a moment in 1861,” Fein said, alluding to the start of the American Civil War.
Greene is a conservative firebrand and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress by stirring up controversy and promoting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
During the recent hearing, Greene was questioned under oath. He repeated the baseless claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, said he did not recall several inflammatory statements and social media posts attributed to him, and denied ever endorsing violence.
He denied knowledge of plans to storm the Capitol
Greene acknowledged encouraging a rally in support of Trump, but said he was not aware of plans to storm the Capitol or disrupt the vote count using violence.
Greene said he feared for his safety during the unrest and used social media posts to encourage people to stay safe and calm.
The challenge to his eligibility is based on a section of the 14th Amendment which says that no one may serve in Congress “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall insurrection or rebellion against it.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, it was designed in part to prevent representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.
Greene “urged, encouraged, and helped facilitate violent resistance to our own government, our democracy, and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding, “He engaged in insurrection.”
James Bopp, an attorney for Greene, argued that his client engaged in protected political speech and that she herself was a victim of the attack on Capitol Hill, not a participant.
Judge says no evidence of involvement
Beaudrot wrote that there is no evidence that Greene participated in the Capitol attack or that he communicated or gave instructions to the people involved.
“Whatever the exact parameters of the meaning of ‘compromise’ as used in the 14th Amendment, and assuming for these purposes that the invasion was an insurrection, Challengers have not presented sufficient evidence to show that Representative Greene ‘participated’ in that insurrection after she was sworn in on January 3, 2021,” he wrote.
Greene’s “public statements and heated rhetoric” may have contributed to the atmosphere that led to the attack, Beaudrot wrote, but his statements are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and to express such political views, “regardless of how aberrant they can be.” “Before he was sworn in as a member of Congress does not amount to insurrection.
The challenge to Greene’s eligibility to run for reelection was filed by five voters who live in his district, and the procedure for such a challenge is outlined in Georgia law.
Beaudrot’s decision is not binding on Raffensperger, who must determine whether Green is qualified to run for re-election.