Trump judge saves Madison Cawthorn, strikes down challenge against his election eligibility

The judge is a Trump appointee and a member of multiple conservative advocacy groups

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published March 4, 2022 4:55PM (EST)

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) arrives for the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) arrives for the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb - Pool/Getty Images)

A federal judge on Friday struck down a legal challenge against Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who a group of North Carolina voters argued was ineligible for re-election due to his apparent role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riot. 

The decision was handed down by Judge Richard Myers, a Trump-appointee in the eastern district of North Carolina, who rubber stamped Cawthorn's request for a preliminary injunction against the petitioners. 

Myers is a member of two conservative advocacy groups, including the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association. He also serves as a faculty advisor for the Christian Legal Society, whose members profess to be "dedicated to serving Jesus Christ through the practice and study of law."

The case originally stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of voters and advocacy groups back in January, alleging that Cawthorn should be disqualified from re-election over his conduct before and during the Capitol insurrection. 

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

In the leadup to the insurrection, Cawthorn encouraged his followers to "lightly threaten" their representatives if they didn't validate Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. The conservative firebrand also made an appearance at the "Stop the Steal" rally, held just hours before the riot, where he blasted Republicans for "not fighting" hard enough. When the rioters had finally made their way inside the House chamber, Cawthorn appeared to be brimming with pride over Twitter, writing gleefully that "the battle is on the house floor."

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The lawsuit, now all but dead, hangs its hat on the 14th Amendment's "disqualification clause," which prohibits any officeholders who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same" from holding a seat in government. 

But in a countersuit filed in February, Cawthorn's lawyers argued that the Amnesty Act of 1872 – which allowed ex-Confederates to serve in office after the Civil War – effectively validates Cawthorn's re-election bid. In fact, that law only applied to ex-Confederates – not future insurrectionists, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern noted.

Still, Myers sided with Cawthorn's abstruse logic, claiming that "we are at a moment in which interest in free and fair elections is at its peak." The judge added that he felt too responsible for protecting "the soapbox … the ballot box … and the jury box … And when those fail, that's when people proceed to the ammunition box."

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

Rob Fein, the legal director of Free Speech For People, which is representing the voters who filed the suit against Cawthorn, has called for the decision to be appealed. 

"This ruling, by Chief Judge Richard Myers II, a Trump appointee, is wrong on the law and would block the State Board of Elections from determining whether Cawthorn is ineligible under the Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause of the US Constitution," he said in a statement. "The ruling must be reversed on appeal, and the right of voters to bring this challenge to Cawthorn's eligibility must be preserved.

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Elections 2022 Gop Jan. 6 Madison Cawthorn Republicans Trump Judges Trump's Coup