Updated September 6, 2022 4:52 PM ET
A New Mexico county official who was found guilty of entering a restricted area during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol should be immediately removed from office for his involvement in an insurgency, a judge has ruled. tuesday.
District Court Judge Francis Mathew ruled that Couy Griffin, an Otero County commissioner, was now disqualified from holding public office because he violated Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment by participating in the Jan. 6 siege.
“He was sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States… [and then] engaged in this insurrection after being sworn in,” Judge Mathew wrote.
The ruling against Griffin, who made headlines earlier this year by refusing to certify his county’s election results, comes after some similar, high-profile Fourteenth Amendment challenges to sitting lawmakers across the country failed. country.
Griffin told NPR he was shocked by the decision. He said the civil trial that led to it was unfair and “purely political”. He says the plaintiffs in the case were from liberal counties in the state and were backed by liberal groups. He also said he was a target because of his relationship with former President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think it’s fair to accuse me of insurrection,” he says. “I had no intention of being part of an insurrection or a violent mob. My intention of going to Washington, DC on January 6 was because I feared our election had been compromised.”
Noah Bookbinder — the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW — said the decision against Griffin is the first time since the Civil War era that a public official has been removed from office under the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits anyone from holding state or federal office if they engage in or support any type of insurrection or rebellion against the United States
This little-known provision was included in the Fourteenth Amendment in the aftermath of the Civil War, Bookbinder says, as a way to prevent those who were part of the Confederacy from holding public office again. He says it was used in the 1860s and then has been invoked very rarely since.
“As a country, we’ve been fortunate not to have had many episodes of insurgencies — and certainly not insurgencies in which elected officials played a role,” Bookbinder said. “But now we had this thing that happened where people in the United States engaged in an armed insurrection to stop the legally mandated vote count and the peaceful transfer of power. It really felt a lot like what the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment had in mind.”
CREW represented three New Mexico residents who filed a civil lawsuit against Griffin last March and sought his dismissal.
According to the judge’s ruling, Griffin’s group, called Cowboys for Trump, “played a key role in Stop the Steal mobilization efforts” prior to Jan. 6, 2021. Video from that day shows Griffin “working” supporters of Trump vs. then-Vice President Mike Pence, according to court. And there’s also footage of Griffin illegally breaching multiple security barriers and inciting violence by rallying rioters with a megaphone.
Griffin says he was not violent while at the Capitol that day and was unaware he was trespassing at the time. A criminal court convicted Griffin of misdemeanor trespass on Jan. 6, which he plans to appeal.
“I regret the actions of many that day who fought with police officers and destroyed government property,” he said. “I regret their actions but I don’t regret my actions. My own actions were legal.”
Judge Mathew ordered that effective today, Griffin be “barred for life” from serving as a senator, congressman, voter, or holding any civilian or military office federally or in any state. any state.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that Griffin’s commission term ends at the end of the year, but he plans to run for sheriff.
Griffin told NPR he would appeal the latest decision. At trial last month for the civil suit, Griffin unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the case, the Log reported.
Regardless of what happens next, Bookbinder says this is the first time a court has ruled that what happened on Jan. 6 was an insurrection. He says the ruling sends a message to other public officials across the country who have undermined the 2020 election results, as well as other democratic standards.
“The court’s decision sent a message that powerful people cannot rise up against the enforcement of the laws of the United States and the peaceful transfer of power without consequences,” he said, “and the country must be protected. against those who undermine our democratic principles.”
Some high-profile legal efforts to remove civil servants from office over their involvement in Jan. 6 have so far failed.
In March, a judge blocked a lawsuit seeking to remove North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn from her re-election bid. And in May, Georgia officials decided Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene could stay on the ballot after her role in the Capitol riot.
Earlier this year in New Mexico, Otero County commissioners initially refused to certify the county’s primary election, citing baseless claims about the safety of voting machines. The state Supreme Court then intervened, ordering the county to certify. The commissioners ultimately voted 2 to 1 for certification, with Griffin the only one not voting.