Marjorie Taylor Greene’s eligibility challenge fails

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger accepted a judge’s findings on Friday and said U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified to run for office despite claims by a group of voters according to which she had engaged in an insurrection.

Georgia Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot issued a ruling hours earlier that Green was eligible to run, concluding that voters had not produced sufficient evidence to support their claims. After Raffensperger adopted the judge’s ruling, the group that filed the complaint on behalf of voters vowed to appeal.

Before making his decision, Beaudrot had held a day-long hearing in April that included arguments from lawyers for the voters and for Greene, as well as extensive questioning of Greene herself. He also received additional deposits from both sides.

Raffensperger is challenged by a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump in the May 24 GOP primary in the state after refusing to bow to pressure from Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. Raffensperger could have faced a huge backlash from right-wing voters had he not agreed with Beaudrot’s conclusions.

Raffensperger wrote in his “final decision” that typical challenges to a candidate’s eligibility relate to questions about residency or whether he has paid his taxes. Such challenges are permitted under a procedure outlined in Georgian law.

“In this case, the Challengers assert that Rep. Greene’s political statements and actions disqualify her from office,” Raffensperger’s ruling said. “That’s rightly a question for voters in Georgia’s 14th congressional district.”

The challenge was filed for five voters in his constituency by Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group. They allege the GOP congresswoman played a significant role in the January 6, 2021 riot that disrupted Congressional certification of Biden’s presidential victory. They had argued that this put her in violation of a rarely invoked part of the 14th Amendment having to do with the insurgency and makes her ineligible to stand for re-election.

Greene applauded Beaudrot’s decision and called the challenge to his eligibility an “unprecedented attack on free speech, on our elections and on you, the voter.”

“But the battle has only just begun,” she said in a statement. “The left will never stop its war to deprive us of our freedoms.” She added: “This decision gives me hope that we can win and save our country.”

Free Speech for People had sent a letter to Raffensperger on Friday urging him to reject the judge’s recommendation. They have 10 days to make their scheduled appeal of his decision to Fulton County Superior Court.

The group said in a statement that Beaudrot’s decision “betrays the fundamental purpose of the insurgent disqualification clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and gives a free pass to political violence as a tool to disrupt and overturn free and fair elections.” .

At the April 22 hearing, Ron Fein, an attorney for the voters, noted that in a television interview the day before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Greene said the next day would be “our moment of 1776.” Lawyers for the voters said some supporters of then-President Trump used this reference to the American Revolution as a call for violence.

“It actually turned out to be a moment in 1861,” Fein said, alluding to the start of the Civil War.

Greene is a conservative brand and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress by stirring up controversy and pushing baseless conspiracy theories. At the recent hearing, she repeated the unsubstantiated claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, said she did not recall various inflammatory statements and social media posts attributed to her. She denied ever supporting violence.

Greene acknowledged encouraging a rally in support of Trump, but said she was unaware of plans to storm the Capitol or disrupt the voter count using violence. Greene said she feared for her safety during the riot and used social media posts to encourage people to be safe and stay calm.

The challenge to his eligibility rested on a section of the 14th Amendment which states that no person may serve in Congress “who, having been sworn, as a member of Congress … to uphold the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against them 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 “advocated, encouraged, and helped facilitate violent resistance to our own government, our democracy, and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding, “She engaged in insurrection.”

James Bopp, an attorney for Greene, argued that his client engaged in protected political speech and was, herself, a victim of the attack on the Capitol, not a participant.

Beaudrot wrote that there is no evidence that Greene participated in the attack on the Capitol or that she communicated with or gave directions to those involved.

“Regardless of the exact parameters of the meaning of ‘engage’ as used in the 14th Amendment, and assuming for these purposes that the invasion was an insurrection, the Challengers produced insufficient evidence to show that the Rep. Greene ‘committed’ to this insurrection after she was sworn in on January 3, 2021,” he wrote.

Greene’s “public statements and impassioned rhetoric” may have contributed to the environment that led to the attack, but they are protected by the First Amendment, Beaudrot wrote.

“Expressing constitutionally protected political opinions, no matter how aberrant, before being sworn in as a representative does not engage in insurrection under the 14th Amendment,” he said.

Free Speech for People filed similar challenges in Arizona and North Carolina.

Greene has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the law voters are using to try to stop him from voting. This trial is ongoing.

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