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Cawthorn Lawyer Using Law Granting Amnesty to Confederate Soldiers to Defend Him From Insurrection Lawsuit

Cawthorn Lawyer Using Law Granting Amnesty to Confederate Soldiers to Defend Him From Insurrection Lawsuit
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

After constantly embracing suggestions for violence and defending the Capitol insurrectionists, far-right Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina is facing legal challenges regarding his eligibility to run for reelection. In light of the states redistricting, the 26 year old Congressman announced last year that he would now run in North Carolina's 13th district, which is friendlier to Republicans.

Earlier this month, 11 voters in the 13th district—backed by the group Free Speech for People—sent a letter to election officials urging them to disqualify Cawthorn from running, citing the speech he gave at former President Donald Trump's "Save America" rally just before the Capitol riot last year, as well as reports that he helped plan the rally and called for supporters to "lightly threaten" their representatives.

The letter argued:

"Planning or helping plan an insurrection or rebellion satisfies that definition. So does planning a demonstration or march upon a government building that the planner knows is substantially likely to (and does) result in insurrection or rebellion, as it constitutes taking voluntary steps to contribute, 'by personal service,' a 'thing that was useful or necessary' to the insurrection or rebellion. And knowing that insurrection or rebellion was likely makes that aid voluntary."

Cawthorn's team immediately dismissed the effort, saying it was "comically misinterpreting and twisting the 14th amendment for political gain." Now, his lawyer, James Bopp Jr., is fighting for him to remain a candidate, but using a cringeworthy defense to do so, according to a new report from Matt Shuham of Talking Points Memo (TPM).

According to the report, Bopp cited the Amnesty Act, an 1872 Reconstruction measure passed by Congress that lifted disqualifications of Confederate soldiers running for office. Section III of the 14th Amendment—which bars insurrectionists from holding public office—also says that "Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

The Amnesty Act of 1872 was an example of Congress using that prerogative, but Bopp told TPM that “There’s nothing in the Amnesty Act that says it’s only applicable to the Civil War, and it was very broad in its terms," essentially claiming Congress meant for the Act to apply to all future insurrectionists, not just those who fought in the Civil war.

Ron Fein, the legal director of Free Speech for People (which is backing the challenge to Cawthorn's eligibility), disagreed, telling TPM:

“In the congressional debates leading up to the 14th amendment, Congress considered but rejected a draft of section 3 that only applied to ‘the late insurrection,’ i.e., the Civil War; in other words, Congress explicitly wrote section 3 to apply to future insurrections. ... If Congress had intended through the 1872 amnesty to enact a de facto repeal of a constitutional amendment that it had just passed, you would have expected someone to have mentioned this at the time."

Some took Bopp's defense as an admission that his client was, in fact, an insurrectionist.

It also wasn't lost on anyone that Cawthorn was invoking a defense used by pro-slavery seditionists.

The effort to disqualify Cawthorn, by most evaluations, is a longshot, but won't be fought in court until litigation of North Carolina's redistricting is complete.