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Supreme Court rejects ‘Cowboys for Trump’ founder’s appeal to stay in office after Jan 6

A former county commissioner in New Mexico who was convicted on charges connected to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol won’t be allowed to return to office.

The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from Couy Griffin, who was removed by a state judge under a constitutional clause that bans anyone who “engaged in insurrection” from holding public office.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes days after the justices declined to remove Donald Trump from Colorado ballots under a similar challenge.

Several state judges found that the former president violated the US Constitution and “engaged in insurrection” after failing to stop the mob, but the nation’s high court found that only Congress, not individual states, could disqualify federal candidates.

Griffin, however, was an elected official at the local level. And unlike Mr Trump, he was convicted on charges stemming from the mob’s assault to block the certification of 2020’s presidential election results.

Griffin, the founder of the pro-Trump group Cowboys for Trump, climbed a toppled fence and another barrier to reach the steps of the Capitol, where he called on the mob to pray, according to federal prosecutors.

In September 2022, after a lawsuit and a civil bench trial in state court, a judge removed him from office, marking the first time in more than 100 years that a court disqualified a public official and the first time an elected official was removed from office for their role on January 6.

Three months earlier, after repeating baseless claims about voting machines and allegations of fraud, Griffin refused to certify legitimate primary election results in his county, triggering a standoff with state election officials.

Now-former Otero County Commission chair and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin rides his horse on Fifth Avenue in New York on 1 May, 2020 (Getty Images)
Now-former Otero County Commission chair and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin rides his horse on Fifth Avenue in New York on 1 May, 2020 (Getty Images)

In his ruling disqualifying Griffin from public office, New Mexico Judge Francis Mathew noted the “irony” of Griffin’s demand that the court should “apply the law” despite his participation in an unlawful “mob” with a “goal, by his own admission, ... to set aside the results of a free, fair and lawful election.”

Judge Mathew wrote that Griffin’s attempts “to sanitize his actions are without merit” and “amounted to nothing more than attempting to put lipstick on a pig.”

Griffin and his group spent “months normalizing the violence that may be necessary to keep President Trump in office” and urged supporters to travel to Washington DC to join what he compared to a “war” to keep the defeated president in office, the judge wrote.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment holds that “no person” can hold any office, “civil or military, under the United States”, if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same”.

The authors of the amendment “did not understand an insurrection to require actual violence; intimidation by numbers sufficed,” Judge Mathew wrote. “The mob that arrived at the Capitol on January 6 was an assemblage of persons who engaged in violence, force, and intimidation by numbers.”

In a brief to the Supreme Court, an attorney for Griffin argued that he was “exercising his Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly” on January 6, and his removal from office violates the First Amendment.

“If the decision … is to stand, at least in New Mexico, it is now the crime of insurrection to gather people to pray together for the United States of America on the unmarked restricted grounds of the Capitol building,” according to the filing. “This Court cannot let this stand.”

He also argued that “the bar for engaging in an insurrection is not trespassing on government property.”

Earlier this month, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court argued that Mr Trump can remain on 2024 presidential election ballots, marking a reversal of a landmark Colorado court decision that found him constitutionally ineligible because of his actions on January 6.

The justices, however, ignored the question at the heart of the case, which revolves around whether then-President Trump “engaged in insurrection” by fuelling a mob that stormed the US Capitol.

Instead, they argued that only Congress – not states – can disqualify candidates for federal office.

But the court’s three liberal justices sharply disagreed with that premise, writing that the court’s conservative majority were attempting “to insulate all alleged insurrectionists from future challenges to their holding federal office”.

Days before Monday’s Supreme Court decision, Griffin pleaded on social media for justices to “set the record” straight while he falsely asserted that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “interfered” with.

Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the case against Griffin, as well as the Colorado case against Mr Trump’s eligibility on that state’s ballots, said that Monday’s decision will “keep in place the finding that January 6 was an insurrection, and ensures that states can still apply the 14th Amendment’s disqualification clause to state officials.”

“Crucially, this decision reinforces that every decision-making body that has substantively considered the issue has found that January 6 was an insurrection, and Donald Trump engaged in that insurrection,” he added. “Now it is up to the states to fulfill their duty under Section 3 to remove from office anyone who broke their oath by participating in the January 6 insurrection.”