WASHINGTON — A New Mexico judge barred “Cowboys for Trump” founder Couy Griffin from holding public office Tuesday, ruling that Griffin’s participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Disqualification Clause.
In a judgment issued Tuesday morning, New Mexico District Court Judge Francis J. Matthew ruled Griffin was “permanently enjoined and prohibited from seeking or holding any federal or state position” as defined by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That includes his current position as a commissioner in Otero County, New Mexico, the judge wrote.
Griffin was convicted in a March bench trial by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden of one misdemeanor count of entering and remaining in a restricted grounds for climbing onto the inaugural stage on Jan. 6. McFadden acquitted Griffin of a second misdemeanor count of disorderly and disruptive conduct, finding, in part, that a prayer Griffin had led on Jan. 6 had a calming effect on at least some of the people around him.
At trial, prosecutors focused on other statements Griffin had made, including a Facebook post stating there might be “blood running out” of the U.S. Capitol Building during further protests and that, “There will never be a Biden presidency.” Griffin also said during a meeting of the Otero County Board of Commissioners, of which he was a member, that he planned to return to D.C. for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, and that he would “embrace my Second Amendment.”
Griffin was sentenced in June to 14 days behind bars – an effective sentence of time served, as he had spent two weeks in pretrial detention before being granted bond. During sentencing, Judge McFadden repeatedly stressed that Griffin’s actions on Jan. 6, and his incendiary statements afterward – what McFadden described as “throwing fuel on the fire here at a very difficult moment for the country” – were in “grave tension” with his oath of office.
“Sir, as an elected state officer you’ve taken an oath to defend the Constitution,” Judge McFadden said, “and I believe the actions you took on Jan. 6 and your statements since are in grave tensions with that oath.”
At the time, Griffin was facing a second potential criminal investigation in New Mexico as part of the Otero County Commission’s vote not to certify the results of the local 2022 primary election. Griffin and two other members of the commission were referred to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office for alleged criminal violations of the state’s election laws, and the deadline to certify those results – and avoid prosecution – fell on the same day as Griffin’s sentencing. After leaving court, Griffin vowed not to vote to certify the results, citing no reasoning other than a “gut feeling,” and indeed voted later that evening not to certify. However, the other two members of the commission changed their vote.
During his trial, the nonpartisan government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit on behalf of two New Mexico residents challenging Otero’s ability to serve in public office after the events of Jan. 6. The suit pointed to section three of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, known as the Disqualification Clause, which prohibits anyone who took an oath to support the constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave aid or comfort to insurrections from holding “any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State.” The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 following the Civil War. Section three, the Disqualification Clause, was included in an effort to prevent those who had aided and abetted the Confederacy from returning to power.
Griffin, who survived a recall campaign last September, argued CREW’s suit sought to “subvert the will of the people.” Judge Matthew rejected that argument in his judgment Tuesday.
“Mr. Griffin disregards that the Constitution itself reflects the will of the people and is ‘the supreme Law of the Land,’” Judge Matthew wrote. “And he overlooks that his own insurrectionary conduct on January 6 sought to subvert the results of a free and fair election, which would have disenfranchised millions of voters.”
Judge Matthews’ ruling not only bars Griffin from holding further public office, but also found he’d forfeited his current office as a county commissioner effective on Jan. 6 and ordered him removed from his position.
“Defendant is permanently enjoined and prohibited from seeking or holding any federal or state position,” Judge Matthews wrote.
CREW president Noah Bookbinder called the judge’s order a “historic win for accountability for the January 6th insurrection” in a statement celebrating the judge’s ruling Tuesday.
“This decision makes clear that any current or former public officials who took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and then participated in the January 6th insurrection can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions,” Bookbinder said.
According to CREW, Judge Matthews’ decision is the first time a court has disqualified a public official under the 14th Amendment since 1869. An attempt to disqualify North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) from public office under the same reasoning was temporarily blocked in March, but the challenge was revived by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in May. Cawthorn lost his bid for renomination in the North Carolina primary the same month.
A Georgia judge also ruled the same month that challengers seeking to disqualify Rep. Marjorie Taylo Greene (R) from holding public office had failed to prove their case. Both Greene and Cawthorn voted to object to certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, and Greene reportedly participated in a late-December meeting at the White House with former President Donald Trump and other Republicans in which efforts to overturn the results of the election were discussed.
It was unclear whether Griffin intended to appeal the judge’s ruling. Griffin said in March he did not intend to run for reelection or for another public office in 2022.
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