By KATE BRUMBACK
ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was engaged in “legitimate political speech” when she called for a response to Joe Biden’s presidential victory prior to last year’s insurrection, her lawyer argued Friday during a hearing over her right to run for reelection.
Voters in the Georgia congresswoman’s district have said Greene helped facilitate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that disrupted certification of Biden’s win, making her ineligible for reelection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says members of Congress cannot engage “in insurrection or rebellion.”
Greene has repeatedly denied aiding or engaging in an insurrection and has filed a lawsuit alleging that the law the voters are using to challenge her eligibility is itself unconstitutional. She is set to appear on the Republican ballot for Georgia’s May 24 primary and has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Ron Fein, a lawyer for the voters who filed the challenge, called the hearing “a solemn occasion,” saying Greene took an oath and then broke it by engaging in an insurrection.
Unlike past insurrections, like the Civil War, that involved military uniforms and tactics, he said, “The leaders of this insurrection were among us, on Facebook, on Twitter, on corners of social media that would make your stomach hurt.”
While Greene wasn’t on the steps of the Capitol, she nevertheless played an important role in stoking Republican fury ahead of the Jan. 6 attack, Fein said. The day before the insurrection, Greene posted, “It’s our 1776 moment!” on the conservative-friendly social media platform Parler.
“The most powerful witness against Marjorie Taylor Greene’s candidacy, the most powerful witness in establishing that she crossed the line into engagement in insurrection is Marjorie Taylor Greene herself,” Fein said.
James Bopp, a lawyer for Greene, said the challengers are making a very serious charge with significant ramifications.
“They want to deny the right to vote to the thousands of people living in the 14th District of Georgia by removing Greene from the ballot,” he said.
Greene “did not engage in the attack on the Capitol,” Bopp said.
The evidence will show that Greene met with Trump about making objections to certain states’ electoral votes because of concerns about voter fraud, Bopp said. At the time of the riot, she was in a dark hallway at the Capitol urging people via social media to be safe and remain calm, he said.
“Rep. Greene was a victim of this attack,” Bopp said, adding that the congresswoman was scared and confused and believed her life could be in danger.
When Greene entered the hearing room in Atlanta on Friday, dozens of her supporters in the room clapped and cheered loudly until a state trooper told them to be quiet. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and frequent Greene ally, was also in attendance.
In a statement Thursday, Trump incorrectly blamed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, for allowing the challenge against Greene, saying she is “going through hell in their attempt to unseat her.”
In fact, the challenge to Greene’s eligibility to run for reelection was filed by five voters who live in her district, and the procedure for such a challenge is outlined in Georgia law.
The law says any voter who’s eligible to vote for a candidate can challenge that candidate’s qualifications by filing a written complaint with the secretary of state within two weeks after the deadline for qualifying. The secretary of state then has to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
After the hearing, the administrative law judge is to present his findings to Raffensperger, who then must determine whether Greene is qualified.
Raffensperger and Kemp both attracted Trump’s wrath shortly after the 2020 election when they refused to take steps to overturn Trump’s narrow loss in the state.
The 14th Amendment 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, it aimed to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.
In their complaint, the voters cited tweets and statements Greene made before, during and after the riot. The complaint says Greene helped plan the riot and/or the demonstration and march on the Capitol that preceded it, knowing that it was “substantially likely to lead to the attack, and otherwise voluntarily aided the insurrection.”
Greene filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month asking a judge to declare the law allowing voters to challenge a candidate’s qualifications unconstitutional and to prohibit state officials from enforcing it. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta on Monday declined a request from Greene to halt the challenge process while the lawsuit plays out. Greene is appealing that ruling.
The Georgia complaint was filed on the voters’ behalf by Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group. The group filed a similar challenge on behalf of voters in western North Carolina against Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who spoke at the rally that preceded the riot.
Cawthorn sued and a federal judge last month blocked the challenge filed with the state’s election board from moving forward, writing that laws approved by Congress in 1872 and 1898 mean the 14th Amendment section can’t apply to current House members.
Associated Press writer Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed reporting.
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