In an unprecedented decision, a New Mexico judge ousted a county commissioner from office on Tuesday for having participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol.
State Judge Francis Mathew ruled that Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin is “constitutionally disqualified from serving” in public office.
Specifically, Mathew said that Griffin participated in an “insurrection,” thus barring him from holding public office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.
The ruling is significant for two reasons.
First, Griffin is the first elected official in the U.S. to be removed from office for participating in Jan. 6. Griffin was previously prosecuted and convicted for his activity at the Capitol that day.
Second, Mathew’s ruling is the first time a judge in the U.S. has officially recognized Jan. 6 as an “insurrection.”
In response to the ruling, Griffin called the judge “tyrannical,” CNN reported.
“I’m shocked. Just shocked,” Griffin said. “I really did not feel like the state was going to move on me in such a way. I don’t know where I go from here.”
What happens from here?
Since post-Civil War Reconstruction, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has only been invoked once: against a socialist member of Congress, Victor Berger, who was convicted of violating the Espionage Act during World War I for opposing U.S. entry into the war.
But the Supreme Court later overturned Berger’s conviction, and he rejoined Congress.
After Jan. 6, liberal organizations have been eager to use the 14th Amendment to disqualify Republicans from office. Up until now their efforts have failed.
But, according to Noah Bookbinder — director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which helped lead the case against Griffin — this ruling could change that.
“This just went from being theoretical to being something that is legally recognized and legally possible,” Bookbinder said, the New York Times reported. “That’s hugely significant. It could have real implications for protecting the country from people associated with the effort to overturn the last election.”