A Georgia judge has rejected an effort to disqualify Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from public office on Friday, finding her challengers did not prove that she violated the 14th Amendment’s prohibitions by engaging in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“The burden of proof in this matter is on Challengers,” Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Beaudrot wrote in a 19-page initial decision. “Challengers have failed to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. The evidence in this matter is insufficient to establish that Rep. Greene, having ‘previously taken an oath as a member of Congress… to support the Constitution of the United States… engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof’ under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.”
Within hours, Beaudrot’s findings were affirmed by Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a staunch critic of former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims—particularly as they pertained to the Peach State.
“You know better than most the scope, fluidity, and desperation of the increasingly chaotic efforts to overturn the 2020 election,” the challengers’ attorney Bryan L. Sells wrote in a three-page letter.
On Jan. 2, 2021, Trump tried to pressure Raffensperger to overturn Georgia’s election results by telling him during a phone call: “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” the precise number needed to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory there.
“You, however, bravely resisted,” the challengers told Raffensperger.
However, Raffensperger affirmed Beaudrot’s decision, leaving Greene’s qualifications for the electorate.
“That is rightfully a question for the voters of Georgia’s 14th Congressional District,” he wrote.
“The Court Is Not Persuaded”
Beaudrot’s decision follows an evidentiary hearing where Greene testified about events before, during, and after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Grilled by attorney Andrew Celli, Greene responded to questions with variations of “I don’t remember” and “I don’t recall” more than 80 times, by the challengers’ count. In one memorable exchange, Greene testified that she could not remember whether she advocated that then-President Donald Trump invoke martial law. Days after the hearing, Greene’s leaked messages showed she broached the subject with Trump’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, telling him the subject of “Marshall law [sic]” came up among fellow GOP members.
The judge, who did not cite this exchange, ultimately found the evidentiary record too thin find that Greene “engaged” in insurrection.
“Challengers make a valiant effort to support inferences that Rep. Greene was an insurrectionist, but the evidence is lacking, and the Court is not persuaded,” Beaudrot wrote. “The evidence shows that prior to January 3, 2021, Rep. Greene engaged in months of heated political rhetoric clothed with strong 1st Amendment protections.”
In a phone interview, Greene’s attorney James Bopp celebrated the decision.
“It’s a really important ruling for the future of our democracy and for the First Amendment,” he told Law&Crime.
A longtime attorney for prominent GOP causes, Bopp has a long record of high-profile legal battles involving the First Amendment, particularly the Citizens United case that produced the landmark Supreme Court ruling relaxing campaign finance laws. He defended Republican Reps. Madison Cawthorne of North Carolina, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and other officials in similar challenges, expressing intense opposition to the disqualification challenges.
“If this ever takes hold, this experiment in representative democracy is over because the voters now have no role in their elections,” Bopp said on a recent episode of Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections: with Adam Klasfeld.” “It’s all going to be up to lawyers and bureaucrats and judges, maybe to determine who gets to run for office based upon ridiculous claims like this.”
“Fresh Look at the Evidence”
The non-profit group Free Speech for People, which backed disqualification challenges against Greene and other politicians on the political right, criticized the ruling.
“This 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,” the group wrote in an unsigned statement.
Pointing to smaller victories within the ruling, the group found certain favorable findings on the law.
“To be sure, the judge agreed with the challengers on the appropriate legal standard for determining whether someone has ‘engaged’ in insurrection, including that ‘marching orders or instructions to capture a particular objective, or to disrupt or obstruct a particular government proceeding,’ constitute engagement,” the statement continues.
Beaudrot also rejected the position of Greene’s counsel that speech cannot constitute engagement.
“The purpose of the Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause—in 1866 and today—is to protect the republic not just (or even mainly) from violent foot soldiers, but rather the political leaders who broke their oath to support the Constitution and helped facilitate the insurrection,” Free Speech for People said. “It’s true that Greene didn’t attack police officers herself, but in the Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis never fired a shot. The case law under the Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause is clear that any voluntary assistance to an insurrection is disqualifying, and the evidence presented in this case established beyond serious question that Greene helped facilitate an assemblage of violent extremists for the purpose, as she admitted on video, of preventing the peaceful transfer of power.”
Free Speech for People urged Raffensperger to take a “fresh look at the evidence.” They also urged the Secretary of State to find that Beaudrot’s refusal to order Greene’s deposition and production of documents was an error.
“This error is particularly egregious because, as his ruling emphasizes, he based his decision almost entirely on a purported lack of evidence,” the group’s letter to Raffensperger notes.
Raffensperger demurred, and the group signaled they planned to appeal.
Listen to recent episodes of Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections” for background about the disqualification cases from the perspectives of both parties:
Read the ruling, below:
(Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)
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