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Home Supreme Court Supreme Court permits New Mexico to be the first state to remove an insurrectionist from office

Supreme Court permits New Mexico to be the first state to remove an insurrectionist from office

The Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal of the “Cowboys for Trump” founder, affirming its assertion that states have the authority to remove state officials if they took part in an insurrection.

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Left: The judges of the United States Supreme Court (Alex Wong/Getty images). Right: Couy Griffin at the Capitol on Jan. 6 (via DOJ court filing).

The Supreme Court declined to listen to the appeal of the “Cowboys for Trump” founder — and convicted Jan. 6 rioter — on Monday, thus carrying out its statement that while states cannot disqualify insurrectionists from holding presidential office, they can certainly remove state officials.

“We conclude that States may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state position,” the judges wrote in an unsigned opinion on March 4 about the ultimately unsuccessful effort to get Donald Trump kicked off the presidential primary ballot in Colorado (emphasis in original).

The Court’s decision Monday means that a ruling by the top court in New Mexico will stand against the only U.S. elected official that has been barred from holding office because of his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Former Otero County, New Mexico, commissioner Couy Griffin, who founded “Cowboys for Trump,” was convicted in March 2022 of entering a restricted area — a misdemeanor — for participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Griffin was acquitted of a second misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct after a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Donald Trump appointee.

Griffin was recorded standing with a megaphone over the crowd outside the Capitol and boasted on social media that he “climbed up on the top of the Capitol building” and “had a first row seat” to the violence. According to the criminal complaint filed against him, Griffin promised, “we will plant our flag on the desk of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Donald J. Trump if it boils down to it.”

Griffin, a Republican, was elected to the three-member commission of Otero County, New Mexico, in 2018, winning 65% of the vote against his Democratic opponent. An effort to recall him was launched in after his arrest for his involvement in Jan. 6, but it failed to get enough signatures by the September deadline.

Following his criminal conviction, Griffin was the subject of a New Mexico state trial in 2022, which resulted in his being disqualified from office under the insurrection clause — the same provision of the 14th Amendment that Colorado invoked to kick Trump off its presidential ballot. Griffin’s disqualification was the first of its kind since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The insurrection clause was specifically written for the purpose of keeping the former Confederates from holding government office.

The case against Griffin was filed on behalf of three New Mexico residents by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the same advocacy group that brought the Colorado lawsuit to disqualify Trump.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court overturned the Centennial State’s ruling against Trump and found that states have no right to enforce the insurrection clause against presidential candidates. The Court’s ruling was a narrow one that explicitly said different rules are applicable to the state and local candidates, over whom states have more authority.

At Griffin’s 2022 trial in state district court, New Mexico First Judicial District Judge Francis Mathew determined that the Jan. 6 attack was an insurrection according to the Constitution, and declared that Griffin assisted in this insurrection without the use of violence, leading to a postponement in Congress’ election certification process.

Even though the justices’ rejection of the appeal on Monday was issued without any statement, it clearly emphasizes the Court’s stance from two weeks ago: the Insurrection Clause can prevent participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection from holding state office.


Brandi Buchman contributed to this piece.

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