Challenge over Marjorie Taylor Greene's eligibility fails

·6 min read

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger accepted a judge’s findings Friday and said U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified to run for reelection.

A group of voters filed a complaint with Raffensperger’s office saying that Greene should be barred from running for reelection under a seldom-invoked provision of the 14th Amendment having to do with insurrection. Georgia Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot last month held a hearing on the matter and found that Green was eligible/ineligible.

He then sent his findings to Raffensperger, who was responsible for making the final decision.

It was an awkward position to be in for the secretary of state who drew the ire of former President Donald Trump after he resisted pressure to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Greene has been a staunch Trump ally and has won his endorsement for her reelection bid while continuing to spread unproven claims about the 2020 election being “stolen.” Raffensperger, meanwhile, has consistently defended the integrity of the election in Georgia, but is facing a tough primary challenge from Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

ATLANTA (AP) — A judge in Georgia on Friday found that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified to run for reelection, concluding that a group of voters who had challenged her eligibility failed to prove she engaged in insurrection after taking office. But the decision will ultimately be up to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Before reaching his decision, state Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot held a daylong 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 briefing.

State law says Beaudrot must submit his findings to Raffensperger, who has to decide whether Greene should be removed from the ballot.

Raffensperger is being challenged by a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump in the state's May 24 GOP primary after he refused to bend to pressure from Trump to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. Raffensperger would likely face huge blowback from right-wing voters if he were to disagree with Beaudrot’s finding.

A Raffensperger spokesperson said in an email that he had received Beaudrot's recommendation and “will release his final decision soon.”

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

“But the battle is only beginning,” she said in a statement. “The left will never stop their war to take away our freedoms.” She added, “This ruling gives me hope that we can win and save our country.”

The challenge to Greene’s eligibility was filed by Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, on behalf of five voters who allege the GOP congresswoman played a significant role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that disrupted Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. That puts her in violation of a seldom-invoked part of the 14th Amendment having to do with insurrection and makes her ineligible to run for reelection, they argued.

Beaudrot's decision “betrays the fundamental purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause and gives a pass to political violence as a tool for disrupting and overturning free and fair elections," Free Speech for People said in a statement.

“We urge Secretary Raffensperger to take a fresh look at the evidence presented in the case and reject the judge’s recommendation,” the statement said. The group said it sent a letter to Raffensperger on Friday outlining its arguments and urging him to reject the judge's findings.

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

“In fact, it turned out to be an 1861 moment,” Fein said, alluding to the start of the Civil War.

Greene is a conservative firebrand and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress by stirring controversy and pushing baseless conspiracy theories. During the recent hearing, she repeated the unfounded claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, said she didn’t recall various incendiary statements and social media posts attributed to her, and denied ever supporting violence.

Greene acknowledged encouraging a rally to support Trump, but she said she wasn’t aware of plans to storm the Capitol or disrupt the electoral 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 her eligibility is based on a section of the 14th Amendment that says 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.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, it was meant in part to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.

Greene “urged, encouraged and helped facilitate violent resistance to our own government, our democracy and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding: “She engaged in insurrection.”

James Bopp, a lawyer for Greene, argued 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's no evidence that Greene participated in the attack on the Capitol or that she communicated with or gave directives to people who were involved.

“Whatever 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, Challengers have produced insufficient evidence to show that Rep. Greene ‘engaged’ in that insurrection after she took the oath of office on January 3, 2021,” he wrote.

Greene's “public statements and heated 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 views, no matter how aberrant they may be, prior to being sworn in as a Representative is not engaging in insurrection under the 14th Amendment,” he said.

The five voters who challenged Greene’s eligibility live in her district, and the procedure for such a challenge is outlined in Georgia law.

Once Raffensperger determines whether Greene is qualified to run, either side has 10 days to appeal.

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

Greene has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the law that the voters are using to try to keep her off the ballot. That suit is pending.

Kate Brumback, The Associated Press

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