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Georgia judge says Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified for reelection

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene prepares to testify in Atlanta.
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) appears in court for her April 22 testimony in an Atlanta courtroom.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)
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A judge in Georgia found Friday that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is qualified to run for reelection to Congress, concluding that a group of voters who challenged her eligibility failed to prove that she engaged in insurrection after taking office. But the decision will ultimately be up to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

State Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot made his decision after a hearing in April that included extensive questioning of Greene, a Republican.

Beaudrot must submit his findings to Raffensperger, who will decide whether Greene should be removed from the ballot.

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Raffensperger is being challenged in this month’s GOP primary by a candidate backed by former President Trump, and would likely face blowback from voters on the right if he were to disagree with Beaudrot’s finding.

A Raffensperger spokesperson said in an email that the secretary of state had received Beaudrot’s recommendation and “will release his final decision soon.”

The challenge to the congresswoman’s eligibility was filed by voters who allege she played a significant role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that disrupted Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. That would put her in violation of a seldom-invoked part of the 14th Amendment that makes insurrectionists ineligible to run for reelection, they argue.

During the April 22 hearing on the challenge, Ron Fein, a lawyer for the voters who filed the challenge, noted that in a TV interview the day before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Greene said Jan. 6 would be “our 1776 moment.” Lawyers for the voters said some Trump supporters used that reference to the American Revolution as a call to violence.

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“In fact, it turned out to be an 1861 moment,” Fein said, alluding to the start of the Civil War.

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Greene is a conservative firebrand and Trump ally who has become one of the GOP’s biggest fundraisers in Congress, in large part by stirring controversy and pushing baseless conspiracy theories.

While under oath at the April hearing, she repeated the unfounded claim that widespread fraud led to Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, said that she didn’t recall various incendiary statements and social media posts attributed to her, and denied ever supporting violence.

Greene did acknowledge that she had encouraged participants in a rally to support Trump, but said she wasn’t aware of plans to storm the Capitol or to disrupt the electoral count using violence. She said she feared for her safety during the attack and used social media posts to encourage people to be safe and to remain calm.

The challenge to her eligibility is based on a section of the 14th Amendment that says no one can serve in Congress “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress ... to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, the amendment was meant in part to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.

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Greene “urged, encouraged and helped facilitate violent resistance to our own government, our democracy and our Constitution,” Fein said, concluding: “She engaged in insurrection.”

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James Bopp, a lawyer for Greene, argued that his client had engaged in protected political speech and was herself a victim of the attack on the Capitol, not a participant.

Beaudrot wrote in his findings that there was no evidence that Greene had participated in the attack on the Capitol or that she had communicated with or given directives to people who were involved.

“Whatever the exact parameters of the meaning of ‘engage’ as used in the 14th Amendment, and assuming for these purposes that the Invasion was an insurrection, Challengers have produced insufficient evidence to show that Rep. Greene ‘engaged’ in that insurrection after she took the oath of office on January 3, 2021,” he wrote.

Greene’s “public statements and heated rhetoric” may have contributed to the environment that led to the attack, Beaudrot wrote, but he added that her statements were protected by the 1st Amendment, and said it did not amount to insurrection for her to express such political views, “no matter how aberrant they may be,” before she was sworn in as a member of Congress.

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The challenge to her eligibility to run for reelection was filed by five voters in Greene’s district, under a procedure outlined in Georgia law.

Raffensperger is not bound by Beaudrot’s findings. Once the secretary of state makes his decision, the losing party will have 10 days to appeal it in Fulton County Superior Court.

Raffensperger’s primary challenge on the May 24 ballot came about after he refused to bend to pressure from Trump to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. Raffensperger has decried the Capitol attack, writing that he found it “highly objectionable” that “people are now trying to minimize what happened.”

The Georgia complaint about Greene was filed by Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, on behalf of the five voters. The group filed similar challenges in Arizona and North Carolina.

In response, Greene has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the law that could keep her off the ballot. That suit is pending.

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