Judge mulls lawsuit seeking to kick Trump backers off ballot
PHOENIX (AP) — Attorneys representing two Republican congressmen and a GOP state House member running to be Arizona’s top election official urged a judge in Phoenix Wednesday to dismiss lawsuits that allege they are ineligible for the November ballot because they participated in or helped organize the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington that ended with an unprecedented attack on Congress.
Lawsuits seeking to disqualify Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs and state Rep. Mark Finchem filed on behalf of a handful of Arizona voters allege that they are ineligible to hold office because they participated in an insurrection. They cited a section of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution enacted after the Civil War.
But their attorneys told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury that he should throw out the lawsuits. Jack Wilenchik, the attorney for Finchem, said there is no enforcement mechanism in that amendment unless Congress has enacted one or someone has been convicted.
“There is no congressional statute that authorizes a state court to try someone under section three of the 14th amendment,” Wilenchik told Coury.
He said the amendment was “intended to apply to the leading and most influential characters of the Confederacy engaged in rebellion.”
“It was a very specific and limited purpose,” Wilenchik said.
Attorney Alexander Kolodin, representing Gosar, said the lawsuits ignore the free speech rights in the 1st Amendment and the Arizona Constitution. And he said there are least needs to be a crime for the 14th Amendment to apply.
“I want to note at the onset that it is absurd to claim that a sitting member of the U.S. Congress advocated for the overthrow of the United States government,” Kolodin said.
Kory Langhofer, the attorney representing Biggs, said the lawsuits’ allegation that he planned events like the rally knowing it would lead to an insurrection was just wrong.
“Planning a rally and planning an insurrection are very different things,” Langhofer said.
Jim Barton, an attorney representing the voters trying to block the three lawmakers from appearing on the ballot, said his clients are not alleging they committed a crime.
“We’re alleging that they were involved in something, they engaged in something, that was an uprising against the federal authority of the United States and targeting a core constitutional function of the United States,” Barton said.
The rally where former President Donald Trump spoke and urged attendees to march on the Capitol led to deadly clashes as protestors forced their way into Congress and it was certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
Coury took the issue under advisement and is expected to quickly rule whether to dismiss the case. If he does not, he has scheduled a three-day trial for next week. Whoever loses is expected to quickly appeal directly to the Arizona Supreme Court under laws that fast-track election challenges.
The Arizona lawsuits are mirrored in complaints now being pursued against sitting members of Congress from Georgia and North Carolina. Voters in Georgia are trying to get firebrand Republican and Trump supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene thrown off the ballot for similar reasons. And voters are trying to get North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn blocked from running in the fall.