Will Madison Cawthorn be barred from Congress? N.C. election board says maybe

By fanning the flames of Capitol riot, contentious Republican freshman may have knocked himself off the ballot

By Jon Skolnik

Published February 10, 2022 6:00AM (EST)

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., the freshman firebrand who has vociferously backed Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, might face a formal bar from seeking re-election to Congress over his apparent role in fanning the flames of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which put his own congressional colleagues in peril.

On Monday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections argued that it has the power to disqualify Cawthorn's candidacy, an assertion that came in direct response to the lawmaker's challenge against his potential ouster. 

In two court filings in federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, state attorneys called the congressman's arguments "dubious," adding that the "burden" Cawthorn claimed was "outweighed by the interest of the state and its people."

RELATED: Madison Cawthorn sues his own state to stop Jan. 6 challenge before North Carolina election board

In January, a coalition of North Carolina voters petitioned the state election board to invalidate Cawthorn's candidacy over his apparent role in stoking the Capitol riot. The group invoked the "disqualification clause" in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, in part: 

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same ...

Last week, Cawthorn waged a legal offensive against his potential disqualification, suing the above-mentioned voters and asking a federal judge to dismiss their complaint. 

"The undemocratic scheme contained in the North Carolina Challenge provisions supplants voters for state bureaucrats who will determine who can represent the People," Cawthorn's lawyers said in a court filing last week. "This is fundamentally anti-democratic and contrary to the public interest."


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Now the board is asking for Cawthorn's suit to be dismissed, writing that "states have long enforced age and residency requirements, without question and with very few if any legal challenges. ...The State has the same authority to police which candidates should or should not be disqualified per Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment." 

RELATED: Capitol rioter tells Jan. 6 committee about contacts between state Republicans, Trump allies

Cawthorn may be in more jeopardy than most other Republican members of Congress when it comes to the period just before and after the Capitol assault. In December, just weeks before the insurrection, Cawthorn encouraged his followers to "lightly threaten" their representatives, instructing voters to say, "If you don't support election integrity, I'm coming after you." 

During the "Stop the Steal" rally, which presaged the riot, the lawmaker blasted certain Republicans for "not fighting" hard enough against Biden's electoral victory, calling Republican detractors "cowards." He initially appeared elated when rioters breached the House chamber and began vandalizing it, writing on Twitter: "The battle is on the house floor, not in the streets of D.C."

Read more on the gentleman from North Carolina:


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Aggregation Constitution Elections Insurrection Jan. 6 Madison Cawthorn North Carolina