Voting Rights and Democracy

RELEASE: Cawthorn Loses Again: Appeals Court Holds 1872 Act Does Not Block January 6 Accountability

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today issued a ruling rejecting Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s claim that he is not disqualified from holding office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment because of the 1872 Amnesty Act, a law passed to remove Section Three disqualification from certain former Confederates. The voters who challenged Cawthorn’s eligibility for office are represented by Free Speech For People. The Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) filed an amicus brief in the case.

CAC Vice President Praveen Fernandes issued the following reaction:

We are gratified by today’s ruling from the Fourth Circuit. Echoing the brief CAC filed, the court rightly recognized that the 1872 Amnesty Act “does not categorically exempt all future rebels and insurrectionists from the political disabilities that otherwise would be created by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.” As our brief explained, the text and history of the 1872 Amnesty Act make clear that it was passed to grant immunity retrospectively to certain former Confederates, not to grant immunity prospectively to all future insurrectionists.

Although Rep. Cawthorn just lost his party’s nomination for his seat in Congress, today’s ruling remains an incredibly important one. It makes clear that the 1872 Amnesty Act poses no barrier to similar future Section Three challenges of the qualification of candidates to appear on the ballot, thus ensuring that Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment can continue to serve its purpose as an important mechanism for holding public officials accountable when they violate their oaths of office. 

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Resources

CAC case page in Cawthorn v. Circosta: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/cawthorn-v-circosta/

“Confederate Amnesty Act must not insulate the Jan. 6 insurrectionists,” Laurence H. Tribe and Elizabeth B. Wydra, March 11, 2022: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/03/11/opinion/confederate-amnesty-act-must-not-insulate-jan-6-insurrectionists/

CAC RELEASE: “In Cawthorn January 6 Case, a ‘Mystifying’ Preliminary Ruling,” March 4, 2022: https://www.theusconstitution.org/news/release-in-cawthorn-january-6-case-a-mystifying-preliminary-ruling/

“Text and History Demonstrate Cawthorn Can’t Evade Accountability for January 6,” Praveen Fernandes, Charles Miller, and Charlotte Schwartz, CAC Blog, February 23, 2022: https://www.theusconstitution.org/blog/text-and-history-demonstrate-the-weakness-of-cawthorn-arguments-text-and-history-demonstrate-cawthorn-cant-evade-accountability-for-january-6/

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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