Federal Appeals Court Says Post-Civil War Amnesty Act Doesn’t Protect Madison Cawthorn from 14th Amendment ‘Insurrection’ Challenge


Madison Cawthorn

Madison Cawthorn

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Civil War-era law that granted clemency to supporters of the Confederacy does not protect members of Congress today from candidacy challenges based on allegations that they participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

A group of North Carolina voters had challenged the candidacy of soon-to-be-former Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), the Donald Trump ally who spoke at the former president’s so-called “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the violent breach of the Capitol building.

Cawthorn, the voters said, was disqualified from running for office because he violated the 14th Amendment’s provision prohibiting members of Congress from engaging in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States or giving “aid and comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Cawthorn sued, arguing that even if he was deemed to have participated in the insurrection attempt, he was protected by the 1872 Amnesty Act. That post-Civil War era law granted clemency to former Confederates who had been barred from holding public office under the 14th Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II, a Trump appointee, agreed with Cawthorn, finding in March that the amnesty law applied both retrospectively (to those who fought against the Union in the Civil War) as well as prospectively (to elected officials like Cawthorn). The judge then granted the representative’s injunction request.

The North Carolina voters appealed, and on Tuesday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court, finding that “it erred in construing the [Amnesty] Act as a sweeping removal of all future Fourteenth Amendment disabilities.”

The key part of the Amnesty Act on which Cawthorn relies, the court said, “refers to those ‘political disabilities imposed’ in the past…


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