Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) should be allowed to remain on the ballot in the November midterms, an administrative judge recommended Friday, rebuffing a legal challenge arguing she should be disqualified for being an “insurrectionist”—though it will ultimately be up to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to determine Greene’s candidacy.
Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Beaudrot ruled there’s “insufficient” evidence to suggest Greene “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [U.S.], or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof,” as challengers had argued.
Voters from Greene’s district sought to have Greene disqualified based on her alleged role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol building, arguing social media posts and other public actions in support of efforts to overturn the 2020 election violated a 14th Amendment clause barring “insurrectionists” from serving in Congress if they aid in the insurrection after taking their Oath of Office.
Greene and her attorney denied she had any involvement with January 6 and denounced the violence during an April hearing, with the congresswoman repeatedly saying she “didn’t recall” making statements that could be construed as encouraging the attack.
Beaudrot said the challengers hadn’t sufficiently shown Greene aided in the insurrection after being sworn into Congress, arguing her referring to the January 6 rally as “our 1776 moment” on January 5 was a “vague, ambiguous statement” that doesn’t show Greene was complicit in the attack or endorsed the violence “without making an enormous unsubstantiated leap.”
Greene’s “heated political rhetoric” before taking office encouraging efforts to overturn the election is “strong[ly]” protected under the First Amendment, Beaudrot said, and can’t be used to disqualify her candidacy.
The judge said there’s “no persuasive evidence” Greene took any action to support or communicate with the participants in the January 6 attack after taking office, and noted she did not participate in the attack herself.
“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. While Greene’s “public statements and heated rhetoric may well have contributed to the environment that ultimately led to the Invasion … 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.”
What To Watch For
Beaudrot’s ruling will now go to Raffensperger, who will determine whether to keep or ignore it and make an ultimate determination on whether Greene should stay on the ballot. Once he does, either Greene or the challengers can still appeal his decision to a state court, which can overrule Raffensperger if it believes he ruled unfairly. Raffensperger’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the ruling, but told Forbes after her hearing in April the secretary of state will make a decision based on Beaudrot’s conclusion and “is not prejudging the case.”
“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,” Free Speech for People, the organization backing the challengers, said in a statement Friday, urging Raffensperger to “take a fresh look at the evidence presented in the case and reject the judge’s recommendation.”
The coalition of Georgia voters and Free Speech for People first filed their challenge against Greene’s candidacy in March, arguing she “voluntarily aided and engaged in an insurrection” in the days between being sworn into Congress on January 3, 2021, and the January 6 attack. The 14th Amendment stipulates “no person” can serve in Congress who, after taking an oath of office, “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the U.S. government or “[gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Greene filed her own lawsuit against the state in federal court in an effort to block the voters’ effort, but a district court judge ruled against her in April and said the challenge could go forward. Free Speech for People has also backed a challenge to the candidacy of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) on the same grounds, which is now being considered in federal appeals court after a district judge ruled for Cawthorn.
Greene testified in her hearing that she “doesn’t recall ever discussing” invoking martial law with former President Donald Trump as a way for him to challenge the presidential election result. Her comments were seemingly contradicted when a text message she sent to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was reported a few days later, in which she reportedly told Meadows “several [lawmakers] are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for Marshall [sic] law.” In a brief to the administrative court filed after the hearing, the challengers pointed to Greene’s reported text message as further evidence in their case, saying it “further undermines Greene’s credibility” and “shows the lengths to which she was willing to go to help Mr. Trump remain in power.” Beaudrot’s ruling did not address the text message.