The federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Tuesday stemming from the effort to block U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina, from reelection.
The saga began on Jan. 10 when a group of voters filed a candidate challenge with the State Board of Elections against Cawthorn. The challenge alleged Cawthorn should be ineligible for office due to his actions on and around the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing political supporters.
The challengers, North Carolina voters backed by the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Free Speech for People, argue Cawthorn’s actions violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was originally written to keep Confederates out of public office after the Civil War. It states that anyone who took an oath the U.S. Constitution but then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof,” will be barred from office.
The voters pointed to a North Carolina law allowing them to challenge Cawthorn’s candidacy before the election. In their filings, they highlighted Cawthorn’s statements in support of political violence and participation in then-President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally preceding the attendees storming the Capitol in an attempt to block Congress from confirming Joe Biden as president-elect.
Cawthorn sued the State Board of Elections in federal court to block the challenge proceedings. Had they gone forward, the challengers could have subpoenaed Cawthorn’s records and questioned him under oath, with the possibility that the documents and questioning could become public record.
The federal lawsuit is about whether the state has the legal authority to keep a candidate for federal office off the ballot. Cawthorn’s lawyer hasn’t directly addressed the specific claims of the challengers, other than to issue a blanket denial that Cawthorn engaged in any insurrectionary behavior or support anyone who has.
Cawthorn won an early victory in federal district court. Judge Richard Myers II, a Trump-appointee and former professor at the UNC School of Law, ruled the Congress of 1872 forgave all insurrectionists, with minor exceptions, forever more.
Myers had previously blocked the challengers from intervening in the federal suit. Still, the challengers filed an appeal when the State Board of Elections would not. Their appeal led to Tuesday’s hearing.
- Dec. 7, 2021: Cawthorn filed for election in the 13th District, near Charlotte, while serving as a Representative in the 11th District, in Western NC.
- Jan. 10, 2022: A group of voters, backed by Free Speech for People, filed a candidate challenge with State Board of Elections against Cawthorn.
- Jan. 11, 2022: State trial court overseeing redistricting litigation halted candidate challenges until redistricting was complete.
- Jan. 31, 2022: Cawthorn sued the State Board of Elections in federal court to block the state procedures
- Feb. 21, 2022: Judge Myers denied Cawthorn’s challengers from intervening as defendants in the federal case.
- Feb. 23, 2022: NC Supreme Court finalized state redistricting by striking down appeals of the trial court order rendering new district maps for state House, state Senate and U.S. House.
- Feb. 28, 2022: Cawthorn withdrew from the newly redrawn 13th District, and refiled his candidacy in the 11th District, where he currently serves as a U.S. House Representative.
- March 2, 2022: A new group of voters challenged Cawthorn’s candidacy in the 11th District. One voter from the original challenge was also in the second challenge. Challengers must live in the same district as the candidate they are challenging.
- March 4, 2022: Judge Myers ruled from the bench in favor of Cawthorn, blocking state proceedings for challenging Cawthorn’s candidacy.
- March 10, 2022: Judge Myers issued his written order blocking the state.
- March 11, 2022: Appeal filed by Cawthorn’s challengers, who have to show they have a right to be defendants in the case and then argue the case itself.
- April 7, 2022: U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to expedite the appeal, but denied a request for a stay of the lower court’s order.
- April 11, 2022: State Board of Elections decided not to appeal Judge Myers’ decision.
- May 3, 2022: Oral arguments in front of the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
- May 17, 2022: North Carolina primary elections.
- June 2, 2022: Deadline to finalize ballots for the possible July 26 Second Primary. Should Cawthorn not win 30% of the vote in the primary election, the second-place finisher can request a second primary. The State Board of Elections said it would be difficult, but possible, to complete a candidate challenge before June 2 if the 4th Circuit ruled quickly and reversed the lower courts.
- Sept. 9, 2022: Date by which ballots must be available for the general election. Should Cawthorn win the primary with more than 30% of the vote, or win a Second Primary, but be successfully challenged afterward, the Republican executive committee for District 11 would pick a replacement candidate to run in the general election, per state law.
Members of the public can access case documents in federal court through a website called PACER. To access all the documents related to Cawthorn’s initial lawsuit against the State Board of Elections, search the case number 5:22-cv-00050-M.
To access all the documents related to the appeal, search the case number 22-1251.