The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Tuesday ruled that post-Civil War amnesty laws do not protect members of Congress who voiced support for the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Voters brought a case against Representative Madison Cawthorn, claiming that Cawthorn was ineligible to run for re-election because of his comments in support of the Capitol attack. Voters argued that Cawthorn’s comments violated a clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which disqualifies insurrectionists.
Under the clause, politicians who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States or “given aid or comfort” to insurrectionists are barred from running for Congress. Cawthorn argued that the Amnesty Act of 1872 repealed the clause and protects him. At the trial court level, a federal judge agreed and dismissed the challenge to Cawthorn.
However, Judge Toby Heytens wrote for the Fourth Circuit that “the 1872 Amnesty Act removed the Fourteenth Amendment’s eligibility bar only for those whose constitutionally wrongful acts occurred before its enactment… the 1872 Amnesty Act does not categorically exempt all future rebels and insurrectionists.”
Cawthorn lost his GOP primary last week, but the ruling may apply to other elected officials.