Asa Daniels, senior staff writer
On March 24, Free Speech for People, a nonpartisan organization, filed a lawsuit in the state of Georgia to prevent Marjorie Taylor Greene from being eligible for reelection, according to ABC News. Greene is being challenged based on a provision of the 14th Amendment. She has since filed alawsuit on Apr. 1, stating that she wants a judge to say the provision is unconstitutional and that the state of Georgia cannot enforce it.
Eric Sands, associate professor of political science, explained that this provision is in section 3 of the 14th Amendment, from after the Civil War. The intention is to prevent Confederates who fought against the United States from holding seats in Congress, as they had participated in an insurrection, Sands explained. However, the language of the law does not directly state this.
“The language is kind of broad,” Sands said. “It doesn’t specifically talk about the Confederacy, it doesn’t specifically talk about, the rebellion as in 1861 to 1865.”
Sands explained that the organization against Greene utilizes this language in order to prevent her from being eligible for running in the upcoming election.
“What [Free Speech for People] are alleging is that Greene has made a number of public statements denying that the January 6 event was an insurrection and giving statements of support to the January 6 protesters,” Sands said. “So, if the January 6 event was an insurrection, you could then conclude that she has made statements in support of an insurrection, which would seem to be something that, according to the 14th amendment, would mean that she can’t hold elected office.”
Sands went on to say that there are multiple roadblocks with this lawsuit, one of which being the current debate about whether or not the events that happened on Jan. 6, the riots at the U.S. capitol, constitute a political insurrection.
“So, if it’s not an actual insurrection, then the fact that she made statements endorsing it or in favor of it or the people who were involved, you know, it’s uncouth, but it doesn’t rise up to the level of supporting an insurrection at that point,” Sands said.
As for why the committee has been slow to investigate the meaning of the Jan. 6 event, Sands said, it may be politically tied.
“It’s a little hard to know what’s taking so long, other than the fact the whole thing is politicized and they’re trying to draw this out as close to the Midterm Election as possible to try to tire the Republican Party,” Sands said.
Sands added that, due to the highly partisan nature of the committee, it will be interesting to see if the results will indeed have any effect on the opinions of American citizens.
“It kind of depends on how credible the committee ends up looking,” Sands said. “I mean, one of two things is going to happen. For people who think this is an insurrection, all this is going to do is confirm what they already believe and then, for the people who think it was a riot, they’re going to look at the highly partisan nature of the commission and they’re gonna go, ‘well, of course you concluded otherwise, because you have the cards stacked against people who would argue the other way.’”
Another challenge to the lawsuit is that there is a clause in the Constitution, Article 1, section 5, clause 1, that states that each house of government, including Congress, decides the eligibility of its own members.
“[The 14th Amendment] would seem to violate [the clause], because the court has ruled a number of times that the states and other parts of the Constitution can’t override Congress’s ability to determine the qualifications of its members,” Sands said. “So, the argument here would be, that, Congress could make a determination that she was supporting insurrection. Congress could make a determination that she shouldn’t hold her seat and then Congress could vote to expel her or exclude her from The House. [However], you couldn’t do it simply by taking her off the ballot in the states and the states don’t have the authority to remove candidates from the ballot that have qualified to get there.”
Additionally, Sands said that it is difficult to separate this clause of the 14th Amendment from its historical context, due to it being written after the Civil War.
“There is also the argument that, that portion of the 14th Amendment was never intended to apply to anyone but Confederates, that’s when it was written, that’s who it was written for,” Sands said.
As for whether or not this case will set legal precedent for the future, Sands said it is still unclear, as the courts need to make a decision first.
“If the courts were, for some reason, to uphold this [and] disqualify [Greene] from the ballot, that could definitely set an important precedent for the future,” Sands said. “This could set up additional challenges of this sort for people who say impertinent things or were on record of saying stuff that is perhaps treasonous or somebody could take to be treasonous.”
Sands believes that, if a precedent is set, it could result in greater involvement of courts in elections. He worries that may undermine people being able to elect qualified people who they want.
“It opens up a door to getting the courts increasingly involved in elections in ways they perhaps shouldn’t be,” Sands said. “Elections really need to be decided by the people and not have judges coming in and saying ‘well, this person can get elected, this person can’t.’ If you meet the requirements for being a Congresswoman, to me, that’s the end of it. If the people want to vote for you, they can vote for you at that point.”
Michael Bailey, associate professor of political science, said that he does not expect the lawsuit to win in court, due to the weak evidence.
“I cannot see this suit winning,” Bailey said. “It’s based on conjecture – she has not been charged with insurrection, she hasn’t gone to court, there’s no public, hard information suggesting that she did in fact help coordinate this.”
Bailey stated that the suit could be more of a publicity event, in order to remove support from Greene in the upcoming election.
“It could be, in today’s politics, not meant to win,” Bailey said. “It’s meant to embarrass and humiliate.”
Bailey also explained that Greene’s reelection is likely going to be decided in the primary, where another Republican candidate has the best chance of defeating her. Otherwise, Bailey said Greene is expected to retain her seat given that the 14th district is steadfastly Republican.
“The forces that are driving her election victory and probably her reelection victory, are not at all mysterious,” Bailey said. “We just live in an era where we define good and bad largely by partisanship. In that sense, there’s not a whole lot to have to explain if she gets reelected. She’s a Republican, this is Republican district, people today vote Republican – it’s not a competitive two-party district and it may very well be people prefer a different Republican, but she’s a Republican in office.”