Rep. Cawthorn ups ante, sues NC Board of Elections to prevent challenge to his candidacy

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Republican congressman Madison Cawthorn on Tuesday filed a new lawsuit in federal court aimed at those who are attempting to block him from running for reelection.

The original challenge was filed last month by a group of North Carolina voters urging the state board of elections to disqualify Cawthorn because of his participation in the January 6th rally in Washington that preceded a violent riot on Capitol Hill.

"Running for office is not only a great privilege, it is a right protected under the Constitution," Rep. Cawthorn, who represents parts of Western North Carolina, said. "I love this country and have never engaged in, or would ever engage in, an insurrection against the United States. Regardless of this fact, the Disqualification clause and North Carolina's Challenge Statute is being used as a weapon by liberal Democrats to attempt to defeat our democracy by having state bureaucrats, rather than the People, choose who will represent North Carolina in Congress. I'm defending not only my rights, but the right of the People to democratically elect their representatives."

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads the no one can serve in Congress "who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress...to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same."

North Carolina state statutes, moreover, give voters the right to challenge a candidate's running for office if there is "reasonable suspicion or belief," and the person accused may have the burden to prove his or her eligibility and "show by a preponderance of the evidence" of qualifications to run.

If the challenge were to move forward, therefore, Cawthorn would essentially have to testify under oath about his role on January 6th, as well as his conversations with former President Donald Trump about efforts to delegitimize and/or overturn the 2020 election.

"I'm defending not only my rights, but the right of the People to democratically elect their representatives," Cawthorn added.

According to Cawthorn's attorneys, "this burden shifting turns our legal system on its head" and thus "violates the congressman's First Amendment rights by triggering a government investigation based solely upon a Challenger's 'reasonable suspicion.'"

The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina Federal Court, also claims the state statute compromises Due Process, and unfairly contradicts the power of Congress to determine eligibility requirements for its own members.

Attorneys also cite the Amnesty Act of 1872 which paved the way for some members of the Confederacy to serve in the U.S. government.

"North Carolina's law is unjust and unconstitutional as applied to Rep. Cawthorn," Cawthorn's attorney, James Bopp, Jr. said. "The Challenge Statute violates fundamental principles of rights to free speech, due process, and federal law. Requiring someone to prove he didn't do something based upon the barest of 'suspicions' is patently unfair and unconstitutional."

Cawthorn's growing profile in North Carolina

Since his election in 2020, the 26-year-old has emerged as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House. Though he earlier condemned the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol--and recognized President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the election--he has since become a vociferous defender of former President Donald Trump and his claims of widespread election fraud.

Cawthorn, a new member of the House Freedom Caucus, has also been on the offensive to reshape Republican politics in the state and across the country.

"Liberty and freedom must be defended in the People's House by patriots who are unafraid to challenge the status quo and stand for what is right," Cawthorn said in October. "That means upholding promises made to the American people, not selling out to the Swamp."

Last year, Cawthorn sent shockwaves through North Carolina's political establishment when he announced he would switch districts in 2022 from his home area of western North Carolina to a newly drawn district near Charlotte that was widely considered to be an opportunity for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore to run for Congress.

The decision, apparently, was just one move in a broader strategy to reshape the NCGOP's congressional delegation, as ABC11 obtained a political document produced by Cawthorn titled "Congressman Cawthorn's Plan for North Carolina," which contains a map of North Carolina's newly approved congressional districts. The map also contains the names and pictures of the candidates Cawthorn envisions running for 11 of 14 districts, all of which are forecasted to be either landslide victories for Republicans or in just one case, a highly competitive race.

The map, however, may have broken several ethics rules because of its use of official congressional resources.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.
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