Activists Ask NCSBE to Disqualify Madison Cawthorn Over Insurrectionist Ties
Tues., Jan. 11: Judgment Day for North Carolina gerrymanders + Clay Aiken resurfaces + 'Gender Queer' returns
» Will Madison Cawthorn Get Booted from the Ballot? (No, But Keep Reading Anyway.)
I’ll give them this—it’s a clever argument.
The 14th Amendment says no one who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” “shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress.”
North Carolina law allows any voter who lives in the district to challenge a politician’s candidacy based on a “reasonable suspicion or belief” that he or she “does not meet the constitutional or statutory qualifications for the office.”
This law has previously been used for things like age requirements and, in legislative races, residency. But voters represented by the group Free Speech for People, an affiliate of the Bernie Sanders-founded Our Revolution, want to extend that to the 14th Amendment’s Disqualification Clause.
Once the challenge exists, the burden is on Cawthorn to prove he is qualified. State law calls for the State Board of Elections to appoint a multi-county panel to hear the complaint, which can then be appealed to the NCSBE, the Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court.
Our Revolution’s involvement notwithstanding, the complaint—read the whole thing here—has the veneer of bipartisanship. Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr—who, in the Trump era, has become North Carolina Democrats’ favorite Republican—is a lead counsel on the case. The other is top Democratic lawyer John Wallace, and they’re joined by former Chief Justice James Exum Jr., a Democrat.
As evidence for the “reasonable suspicion” of Cawthorn’s insurrectionist tendencies, the complaint says:
Challengers have reasonable suspicion that Cawthorn was involved in either planning the attack on January 6, or alternatively the planning of the pre-attack demonstration and/or march on the Capitol with the advance knowledge that it was substantially likely to lead to the attack, and otherwise voluntarily aided the insurrection.
Representative Cawthorn promoted the demonstration ahead of time, tweeting, “the future of this Republic hinges on the actions of a solitary few . . . It’s time to fight,” and he spoke at the demonstration. Furthermore, there are reports that he met with planners of the January 6 demonstration, and possibly of the assault on the Capitol, beforehand. The stated goal of the organizers was to pressure Vice President Pence into disregarding the electoral votes from several states and declaring Trump the winner of the 2020 election. The likelihood of violence during the implementation of this plan was plain to bystanders and probably more so to those intimately involved. Before the demonstration, violent groups announced they were going to attend it. Plans for violence—and specifically occupying the Capitol to prevent the certification vote or violently influence its outcome—were so prevalent that one reporter has remarked that “[a]nyone with a Twitter account and an hour of time to kill could have warned about the potential for violence on Jan. 6—and many did.”
Representative Cawthorn has a history, leading up to and continuing after his swearing-in as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, of advocating for political violence. He has also made supportive statements about the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, describing them as “political hostages” and “political prisoners.”
Importantly, before the first SBE hearing, the challengers can depose Cawthorn and his staff and subpoena witnesses and documents. That might be the real goal.
Free Speech for People legal director Ron Fein: “As set forth in our complaint, the publicly available evidence, including Representative Cawthorn’s own statements and reports that he or his office coordinated with the January 6 organizers, establish reasonable suspicion that Representative Cawthorn aided the insurrection, thereby disqualifying him from federal office. We look forward to asking him about his involvement under oath.”
The NCSBE certainly has the authority to disqualify a candidate. But that would require an NCSBE panel, or the NCSBE itself, to make a fact determination that doesn’t fall within its ambit. It’s one thing to determine that a candidate is too young to run for office; it’s another to say that he participated in an insurrection.
You can argue that Cawthorn’s conduct meets the criteria for “insurrection,” but should we leave that decision to a quasi-judicial body appointed by a political board?
Of note, the folks rooting hardest for this challenge to succeed might be the Republicans on Jones Street. They would dispose of Cawthorn while getting to complain about Roy Cooper’s totalitarian bureaucracy. Win-win!
As a legislative Dem told me recently: “The Republicans are going to do everything they can do to fuck with Madison Cawthorn. They hate him more than they hate us.”
Which brings us to item 2 …
» Judgment Day for Gerrymanders
Sometime today, the three-judge panel that heard arguments last week over the state’s legislative and congressional maps will render its decision. Given the judges’ conservative lean, they’re more likely than not to side with the NCGA.
However they rule, this thing is going to the state Supreme Court—which might have shown its hand by delaying the primary in the first place.
If the SCONC orders the NCGA to redraw congressional districts, mapmakers might try to draw Madison Cawthorn out of a job as payback for screwing House Speaker Tim Moore out of his specially crafted congressional seat. There would be logistical hurdles to accomplishing that goal, though; outside of Asheville, there aren’t many Democrats on that side of the state.
» Clay Aiken Returns
The long-ago runner-up on American Idol—and then runner-up on Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice—announced yesterday that he’s making his second bid for Congress, having lost in 2014 to Renee Ellmers.
This time, he’s running in Congressional District 6, which covers Orange and Durham, as well as a chunk of western Wake.
Aiken doesn’t live in the district, voting records show. Legally, he doesn’t have to. (Cawthorn doesn’t live in the district in which he’s currently running either.) He lives in unincorporated Wake County, north of Raleigh.
While he’s hosted a political podcast since his last bid for office, he doesn’t seem to have very involved in statewide Democratic politics.
He would be the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from the South.
For a celebrity candidate, he’s probably past his sell-by date. (He was on Idol 19 years ago.) And he’s running against at least three well-funded candidates with established political bona fides—Valerie Foushee, Wiley Nickel, and Nida Allam—and Floyd McKissick Jr. in the wings, awaiting the outcome of the gerrymandering fight.
Assuming the congressional districts are redrawn, it’s possible the Wake portion of CD6 will be carved into a new, Wake-heavy district, and Nickel will run in the new district. Whether Aiken jumps, too, I don’t know.
To be honest, I have no idea what impact Aiken will have on the race—if any. His announcement made a splash—he trended on Twitter! two stories in the N&O!—but he won’t be able to coast on his name.
There’s no word on whether Aiken hopes to turn this campaign into a television documentary like he did the last one.
» Wake Library Reverses on ‘Gender Queer’
Last month, Wake County Public Libraries capitulated to the pearl-clutchers and removed Gender Queer from its shelves, following a complaint about its content. The book, a graphic-novel-style memoir, chronicles author Maia Kobabe’s journey toward identifying as nonbinary and asexual.
A few of its illustrations contain nudity, and it has some sexual content.
Its existence drives the Mark Robinsons of the world batty. Nine people have filed criminal complaints with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office alleging that Gender Queer and other LGBTQ-focused books constitute obscene and pornographic material targeting children.
On Monday, WCPL told county commissioners that it was putting Gender Queer back on the shelves while it reviewed its 17-year-old complaint policy.
During a Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, library officials shared the steps being taken to update the removal process, a press release from the library system said.
"Using this knowledge, staff is revising Wake County's process to make it more transparent and offer more opportunities for diverse input before making a decision," the library system said in a statement.