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New Mexico judge bars "Cowboys for Trump" founder from office over participation in Jan. 6 assault

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Washington — A New Mexico state court judge ruled Thursday that the founder of the group "Cowboys for Trump" must be removed from his post as an Otero County commissioner due to his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Judge Francis Mathew, of the 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, ordered Couy Griffin to be stripped of his position effective immediately and permanently prohibited him from seeking or holding any federal or state position. In his ruling, Mathew said Griffin is barred from public office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment because he "engaged in" the Jan. 6 insurrection and became disqualified from serving in federal or state elected positions the day he participated in the Capitol assault.

An obscure provision of the 14th Amendment, Section 3 states that "no person shall be a senator or representative in Congress" or "hold any office, civil or military" if they, after having taken an oath to support the Constitution, "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof." The provision was originally meant to bar members of the Confederacy from holding office after the Civil War.

Griffin was convicted in March of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 and sentenced in June to 14 days in jail, with credit for time served and one year of supervised release. He was also required to pay a $3,000 fine and complete 60 hours of community service.

In his 49-page decision, Matthew accused Griffin of attempting to "sanitize" his actions on Jan. 6. Griffin's "protestations and characterizations" of the events of Jan. 6 are "not credible and amount to nothing more than attempting to put lipstick on a pig," the judge said.

"The irony of Mr. Griffin's argument that this court should refrain from applying the law and consider the will of the people in District Two of Otero County who retained him as a county commissioner against a recall effort as he attempts to defend his participation in an insurrection by a mob whose goal, by his own admission, was to set aside the results of a free, fair and lawful election by a majority of the people of the entire country (the will of the people) has not escaped this court," Mathew wrote.

Tuesday's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in March by a group of New Mexico residents, represented by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). New Mexico law allows any private citizen of the state to file a lawsuit to remove a person who unlawfully holds public office there, and they argued Griffin is disqualified from federal and state office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment due to his engagement in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and related events.

In his decision, Mathew mapped out Griffin's actions in the run-up to and during the Jan. 6 attack, and said he and Cowboys for Trump played a "key role" in the "Stop the Steal" movement, participating in rallies and amplifying baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. 

After examining the events of Jan. 6 and Griffin's actions, Mathew deemed the attack on the Capitol an insurrection and concluded Griffin engaged in it.

"Because state law required Mr. Griffin to take an oath to support the Constitution as a county official and he did so, the court concludes he is subject to disqualification under Section Three," he wrote.

The ruling from Mathews marks the first time in more than 150 years that a court has disqualified a public official under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and the first time any court has found the events of Jan. 6 were an insurrection, according to CREW.

The group's president, Noah Bookbinder, called the decision "a historic win for accountability."

"Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible," he said in a statement. "This decision makes clear that any current or former public officials who took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and then participated in the January 6th insurrection can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions."

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 after the Civil War to keep former Confederate officers and officials from holding office again unless they received permission from Congress to do so. While seldom invoked over the last 150 years, the group Free Speech for People has spearheaded lawsuits targeting lawmakers in other states over their roles in the Jan. 6 assault, though none have succeeded.

An administrative law judge in Georgia ruled in May that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, may remain on the ballot in the state after a group of voters attempted to disqualify her from running for reelection under Section 3.

A federal district court judge in North Carolina also blocked the state Board of Elections from hearing a challenge to GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn's candidacy. The challenge was dismissed after Cawthorn lost his primary.

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