The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Legal effort to remove Greene from Ga. ballot can proceed, judge rules

A group of voters alleges that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) helped facilitate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
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A federal judge ruled Monday that a group of Georgia voters can proceed with their legal effort to disqualify Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from running for reelection because of her alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, filed the challenge in March with the Georgia secretary of state’s office, alleging that Greene, who has built a reputation as one of former president Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, helped facilitate the violent insurrection aimed at preventing Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s win.

The organization also filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of North Carolina voters to prevent Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) from running for reelection because of his alleged role in the storming of the Capitol but was initially unsuccessful.

The challenges claim that the lawmakers’ actions violate a provision of the 14th Amendment and thus make them ineligible to run for reelection.

The rarely cited provision of the amendment states 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.”

The amendment was ratified shortly after the Civil War. The provision in question was meant to prevent lawmakers who fought for the Confederacy from being reelected to Congress.

Greene, 47, has been accused of frequently using language to incite violence on the U.S. Capitol, including referring to efforts to challenge the results declaring Biden the winner of the 2020 election as “our 1776 moment.” She denies that she played a role in the event that led to the deaths of five people and injuries to 140 members of law enforcement.

Greene filed a lawsuit earlier this month requesting that a judge block Georgia officials from enforcing the state law being used by Free Speech for People in its challenge, arguing that it is unconstitutional. Greene also “vigorously denies that she aided and engaged in insurrection to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power,” her lawsuit says.

Judge Amy Totenberg, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by President Barack Obama, denied Greene’s request for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order in a 73-page ruling, saying that the lawmaker did not meet the “burden of persuasion.”

“This case involves a whirlpool of colliding constitutional interests of public import,” Totenberg wrote. “The novelty of the factual and historical posture of this case — especially when assessed in the context of a preliminary injunction motion reviewed on a fast track — has made resolution of the complex legal issues at stake here particularly demanding.”

While expressing her disappointment with the lawsuit, Greene suggested Monday night on Fox News that Republicans could look into retaliatory efforts to disqualify Democratic lawmakers from reelection.

“The Republican Party needs to fight harder,” she told television host Tucker Carlson. “If you can challenge any representative’s candidacy or elected officeholder, I bet we could round up some Republican voters who did not like Kamala Harris funding rioters — criminal rioters — out of jail or [Representatives] Ilhan Omar or Cori Bush or Maxine Waters in inciting riots.”

“I think there’s another way to play this game,” Greene added.

Vice President Harris did not provide funding to get rioters released from jail. But following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, by a police officer, Harris — then a senator from California — tweeted information about the Minnesota Freedom Fund, an organization that helped provide cash for bail for those protesting racism and police violence.

Just weeks after Floyd’s death, it raised an astonishing $35 million, in part because of tweets such as the one by Harris.

In her appearance on Fox, Greene also complained about having to appear in court.

“I have to go to court on Friday and actually be questioned about something I’ve never been charged with and something I was completely against,” she said.

Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People, told The Washington Post that his organization looks forward to questioning Greene under oath about her involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.

“It’s rare for any conspirator, let alone a Member of Congress, to publicly admit that the goals of their actions are preventing a peaceful transfer of power and the death of the president-elect and Speaker of the House, but that’s exactly what Marjorie Taylor Greene did,” he said in a statement. “The Constitution disqualifies from public office any elected officials who aided the insurrection, and we look forward to asking Representative Greene about her involvement under oath.”

Any Georgia voter eligible to vote for a candidate can challenge that candidate’s qualifications by filing a written complaint within two weeks after the deadline for qualifying, according to state law. The secretary of state has to notify the candidate of the challenge before requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge goes on to hold a hearing before presenting findings to the secretary of state before the state official determines whether the candidate is qualified.

James Bopp Jr., a lawyer for Greene, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Georgia will begin mailing absentee ballots next week for its May 24 primary.

Greene was recently mocked by late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel for contacting U.S. Capitol Police over his jokes about her — the same police she refused to honor last June when she voted against awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal for defending the Capitol and lawmakers during the insurrection. Greene had called some in her party “pro-pedophile” for supporting the confirmation of Justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Greene contacts U.S. Capitol Police over late-night host Kimmel’s joke

The outcome of Greene’s case so far stands in stark contrast to that of Cawthorn. Proceedings were set to begin in North Carolina to determine whether Cawthorn participated in or supported the insurrection, but he successfully sued in federal court to block the proceedings.

Cawthorn’s lawsuit doesn’t contest the facts of his involvement in the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and he has previously denied that he participated in the riot. His lawsuit pushed back on whether a state could review the qualifications of a federal candidate.

Richard Myers II, whom Trump appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, ruled in Cawthorn’s favor, allowing the lawmaker’s name to appear on the primary ballot. Efforts to appeal the ruling were filed last week. Free Speech For People argues that the judge improperly blocked the group from intervening to defend the federal case and that there is no reason under federal law why the challenge shouldn’t move forward.

Cawthorn is facing a tight primary race. He falsely claimed in a recent fundraising appeal that “the left” and the media were behind the accusations he made in March that senior Republican lawmakers had invited him to participate in an “orgy” and that he had witnessed members of his party using cocaine.

Fein told The Post that the organization has also filed cases against Republican Reps. Paul A. Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona.