After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution extended citizenship to all people born in the United States, required that all Americans receive due process, and guaranteed equal protection of the laws to all citizens. But that was just the first section of the amendment.
As regular readers might recall, the third section sought to disqualify those who took up arms against the United States from serving in elected office. It applied to anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the country, or those who gave “aid or comfort to” our enemies.
For generations, this provision wasn’t considered especially relevant, since elected officials in the U.S. didn’t generally run around supporting insurrections against their own country. But after Jan. 6, this constitutional language took on a whole new significance: Suddenly, some right-wing officials were facing eligibility challenges based on the 14th Amendment.
A New Mexico judge on Tuesday ordered the co-founder of Cowboys for Trump removed from public office over his presence at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. State District Court Judge Francis Mathew removed Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from his elected position “effective immediately” and banned him from seeking further public office, citing the 14th Amendment’s clause barring those who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding federal or state office if they have engaged “in insurrection or rebellion.”
As the state judge explained, the relevant constitutional provision bars insurrectionists from “holding any office,” so Griffin not only can’t run for re-election in New Mexico in the fall, he also can’t serve in the office to which he was currently elected.
According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which worked with local law firms in this case, the outcome is the first time in over a century in which a court has disqualified a public official for participating in an insurrection. (Update: A Washington Post report added, "The last time elected officials were disqualified from office using the 14th Amendment appears to be 1869.")
If Griffin’s name sounds at all familiar, the Republican rose to national attention in May 2020 when he spoke at a New Mexico church and declared, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Donald Trump then thought it’d be a good idea to promote a clip of the remarks via social media.
The Cowboys for Trump co-founder also went to Washington, D.C., for Jan. 6, and was ultimately convicted in federal court for entering Capitol grounds without going inside. Griffin was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.
Three months ago, Griffin made headlines again for ignoring a court order and refusing to certify the results of a local primary election because of conspiracy theories he couldn’t explain. The Republican argued in June that he relied on “intuition,” adding that his decision wasn’t “based on any evidence” or “any facts.”
Now, Griffin is back in the news, becoming the first American official in generations to be barred from office under the 14th Amendment.
Part of today’s ruling stood out for its wry humor: “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.”