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Insurrection can disqualify a candidate for public office

Melvin B. Miller
Insurrection can disqualify a candidate for public office
“The fake electors should give us the information we need to bring charges.”

Even as the Civil War raged, Union leaders were busily restructuring the nation for its survival. Several constitutional amendments were essential. The most well-known one was the 13th Amendment that made slavery illegal and was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. But one addition that was less well known is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment that sanctions those federal and state public office holders who joined the Confederacy and violated their oath of office by participating in rebellion and insurrection against the government.

The better known Section 1 of the 14th Amendment establishes citizenship to former slaves and to everyone born in the U.S., grants residency to citizens in their home state and provides life, liberty and property in accordance with the law.

Section 3 provisions were useful during reconstruction to prevent the participation of members of the Confederacy in the newly forming government. However, Congress granted amnesty in 1872 to many of the applicants for new positions who might otherwise be liable for rejection. The hope was to induce former confederates to accept new ideas.

Nonetheless, Section 3 continues to exist as a constitutional provision. Office holders who violated their oath of allegiance on Jan. 6 by rebellion and insurrection have still thereby lost the right to hold public office. Representative Madison Cawthorn, a representative from North Carolina, presently faces the problem. Constituents have asserted that he is disqualified for re-election by the terms of Section 3.

Cawthorn opponents must simply establish that he engaged in “insurrection or rebellion.” Once they have established a prima facie case, then Cawthorn would have to establish the contrary. The challenge will be heard by a five-member panel established by the North Carolina Board of Elections. The decision of the panel will undoubtedly be appealed to the whole board and then to the state’s court system.

The same process can prevent Trump from running for president in 2024. More than likely there will be sufficient evidence of Trump’s insurrection or rebellion in organizing and fomenting the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol. The process of deciding the issue will be destructively time consuming.

The Democratic Party should push forward with Section 3 claims to save the nation from future attacks on its historic democratic principles.

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