A New Mexico judge on Tuesday ordered the removal of a county commissioner convicted of participating in the January 6 riot at the Capitol under the 14th Amendment, making him the first public official in more than 100 years to be barred from serving under a constitutional ban on insurrectionists holding office.
Couy Griffin, a commissioner in New Mexico’s Otero County and the founder of Cowboys for Trump, was convicted earlier this year for trespassing outside the Capitol during the attack when he breached barricades. The judge’s order drew the attention of advocates across the country who have been pushing to use the 14th Amendment to stop former President Donald J. Trump and elected officials who worked with him to overturn the 2020 election from holding office again.
In his decision, New Mexico District Court Judge Francis J. Mathew stated that the January 6 insurgency included the mob violence that day and the “surrounding planning, mobilization, and incitement” that led to it.
Mr. Griffin is constitutionally ineligible to serve, wrote the judge.
Legal challenges have been filed in Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wisconsin by liberal groups seeking to prevent lawmakers accused of supporting the January 6 rioters – including some prominent Republican members of Congress – from holding office under the Constitution. None had succeeded until Tuesday.
This just went from being theoretical to something legally recognized and possible, said Noah Bookbinder, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This nonpartisan watchdog group sued Mr. Griffin on behalf of a group of New Mexico residents. That is enormously significant and could have severe consequences for protecting the country from those involved in the effort to overturn the last election.
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was enacted during Reconstruction to punish Confederate members for fighting against their country during the Civil War. This section states that no person shall hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath to “support the Constitution,” had then engaged in rebellion, insurrection, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. According to the Congressional Research Service, federal prosecutors brought civil actions in court to remove Confederate officials during the Reconstruction period, and Congress, in some cases, refused to seat members.
The section of the Amendment was last enforced in 1919 when Congress refused to seat a socialist member accused of providing aid and comfort to Germany during World War I.
An appeals court ruled in May that participants in an insurgency against the United States government could be barred from holding office. Still, the target of that case, Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, had already lost his primary, making the case essentially moot.
In some ways, Mr. Griffin’s case was a more straightforward victory for advocates seeking to punish officials involved in the riot because he was part of the mob that stormed the Capitol rather than a lawmaker sitting inside.
Mr. Griffin and a videographer scaled Capitol barricades to reach the inauguration stage in front of the building on January 6. Mr. Griffin spoke to the crowd through a bullhorn for more than an hour. He later confessed that he was attempting to lead them in prayer.
Judge Trevor N. McFadden, presiding over a bench trial in Federal District Court in Washington in March, found Mr. Griffin guilty of one misdemeanor count of illegally entering a restricted area at the Capitol. Judge McFadden acquitted him of another accusing him of disorderly conduct. Mr. Griffin was sentenced to 14 days in prison in June.
According to the New Mexico judge’s ruling, Mr. Griffin’s attempts to challenge Mr. Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, including issuing calls for violence on his behalf, preceded the events of January 6.
According to the ruling, Mr. Griffin attended Stop the Steal rallies in his home state as early as November 2020, some of them with a militia group known as the New Mexico Civil Guard. He also took part in a multi-city bus tour organized by the pro-Trump group Women for America First. The tour’s purpose was to recruit protesters for Mr. Trump’s speech on January 6, in which Trump called on supporters to “fight like hell” against his election loss and urged them to march to the Capitol while Congress was meeting to confirm it.
According to the ruling, Mr. Griffin told a crowd in The Woodlands, Texas, on January 1, 2021, that the efforts to overturn the election were a last-ditch effort, comparing it to the famous standoff at the Alamo.
“This is a battle and a war we cannot afford to lose,” Mr. Griffin declared.
Two days later, Mr. Griffin told a crowd in Bowling Green, Ky., that war was underway with “the elitist, gross, wicked, vile people,” adding, “We have to get our country back.”
According to the ruling, Mr. Griffin anticipated violence in Atlanta on January 4 when crowds descended on Washington for Mr. Trump’s speech. In another speech, he urged men from across our country to come to Washington, D.C., on January 6 because it might be a battle.
In the 14th Amendment case, Mr. Griffin represented himself. Nicholas Smith, his lawyer during his criminal trial, declined to comment.
Mr. Griffin, who briefly considered riding a horse to his sentencing at the courthouse in Washington, continued to disparage the case publicly and insult the judge who heard it even after his criminal conviction.
According to court documents, he took to Twitter to complain that Judge McFadden had issued a “P.R.E. written” guilty verdict, calling it “pathetic” and asking, “I wonder who wrote it?”
Following his conviction, Mr. Griffin urged reporters to look into several debunked conspiracy theories about January 6, including one about an Arizona man mistakenly identified as an undercover F.B.I. agent who instigated the mob that day. Around the same time, Mr. Griffin was involved in an attempt by the Otero County commission to deny certification of a recent local election until the county’s voting machines were inspected.