Board of Elections says lawsuit against Rep. Madison Cawthorn should proceed

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina State Board of Elections on Tuesday said the challenges from voters to Congressman Madison Cawthorn's candidacy for re-election should proceed despite his own lawsuit to stop the process.

In two filings submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, state attorneys called the Republican lawmaker's arguments "dubious" and while any perceived "burden" as claimed by Cawthorn "is outweighed by the interest of the state and its people."

In January, left-leaning North Carolina voters urged the State Board of Elections to disqualify Cawthorn because of his participation in the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that preceded a violent riot on Capitol Hill. Cawthorn, the youngest member currently serving in Congress, sued three weeks later claiming the statute violated his First Amendment rights.

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

"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."

Cawthorn's court filings also cited the Amnesty Act of 1872, which paved the way for some members of the Confederacy to serve in the U.S. government.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads that 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.

"A reasonable suspicion is nothing more than a triggering mechanism for the challenge proceeding," attorneys for the Board of Elections said in Tuesday's brief, adding that is for a quasi-judicial panel to decide whether the candidate meets the legal qualifications to stand for election - which would give Cawthorn his due process. "The interest of the public to have presented to them a slate of qualified candidates is fundamental to representative government and more than outweighs any burden that may be imposed by North Carolina's challenge statute."

Regarding the 1872 Amnesty Act, the NCSBE blasted the argument as "unavailing" and added that it was a one-time waiver for former members of the Confederacy - not a precedent for future generations.

New complaints filed by voters against Cawthorn

On the same day as the board of elections filed its response to Cawthorn's lawsuit, two voters filed new complaints against Cawthorn.

Mary Degree, a voter from Shelby, NC and registered Democrat, attacked Cawthorn for his role in what she called "an unconstitutional scheme to subvert the constitutional process of counting the electoral votes in Congress."

Degree further assailed Cawthorn for his close ties with Mark Meadows, the former NC congressman from the same congressional district who went on to serve as President Trump's Chief of Staff.

The complaint also cites several statements from Cawthorn, including to a Turning Point USA convention in Florida weeks before the January 6th riot.

"Call your congressman and feel free - you can lightly threaten them," Cawthorn is recorded as saying to the crowd. "Say, 'if you don't support election integrity, I'm coming after you. Madison Cawthorn's coming after you. Everybody's coming after you.'"

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.

NOTE: Video is from a previous report.
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