Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, on February 26, 2021.
Washington CNN  — 

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, a staunch Donald Trump supporter who has pushed election fraud lies, has filed a lawsuit to shut down efforts by liberal activists to disqualify him from running for Congress because of his role in the January 6 insurrection.

Cawthorn asked a federal court on Monday to block the North Carolina State Board of Elections from hearing a recently filed challenge to his candidacy. The challenge revolves around the little-used “disqualification clause” of the US Constitution, which was ratified after the Civil War to prevent Confederate officials and those who supported “insurrection” from returning to office.

The disqualification clause of the 14th Amendment bans from future office any American elected official who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution but then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

The provision has rarely been utilized, and there are plenty of open legal questions about how it applies today. Cawthorn has denied any wrongdoing regarding January 6.

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Liberal activists mounted the longshot challenge to Cawthorn’s qualifications last month, and the matter is pending before the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Critics of the former President have said the Cawthorn challenge is a test case to see if this is a viable option to hold Trump and other Republicans accountable for inciting the US Capitol attack.

The activists say Cawthorn stoked violence and aided the insurrectionists. Days before the attack, the congressman said it was “time to fight.” And at the January 6, 2021, rally at the Ellipse, he railed against the “cowards” in Congress who planned to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

In their challenge, lawyers for the group Free Speech For People said Cawthorn essentially aided and abetted the insurrection, and was disqualified from office because he “was involved in efforts to intimidate Congress and the Vice President into rejecting valid electoral votes and subvert the essential constitutional function of an orderly and peaceful transition of power.”

North Carolina law has a very low bar for these types of challenges. To trigger a review by the State Board of Elections, voters only need to show a “reasonable suspicion or belief” that a candidate is ineligible for office. At that point, the burden of proof shifts onto the candidate, who then needs to demonstrate that they’re qualified, based on a “more likely than not” standard.

In his federal lawsuit, Cawthorn argued that the bar is so low that it infringes on his constitutionally protected right to run for political office. He sued the members of the state elections board and asked a federal judge to prevent them from hearing the challenge to his candidacy.

“The undemocratic scheme contained in the North Carolina Challenge provisions supplants voters for state bureaucrats who will determine who can represent the People,” his lawyers said in a court filing. “This is fundamentally anti-democratic and contrary to the public interest.”