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14th Amendment misused in Griffin’s ouster


The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, was one of three changes made to the Constitution during the Reconstruction Era designed to ensure southern states didn’t slip back into their old ways.

The most controversial section these days is probably the provision granting citizenship to anyone born in the country.

But it was a more obscure section that was highlighted in a New Mexico courtroom earlier this month.

In an attempt to keep former Confederate officers and political leaders from regaining power, the amendment prohibits anyone from holding an office if they “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”

District Judge Francis J. Mathew, who was appointed in 2013 by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, last week ruled that the participation of Couy Griffin in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s prohibition against insurrection or rebellion, and removed him from the Otero County Commission.

Griffin was found guilty of trespassing by a federal court in March. He was later sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $3,000.

My first reaction upon hearing the news of his ouster was celebratory. Griffin has been an embarrassment to New Mexico.

But I don’t think this was what Congress had in mind more than 150 years ago when the amendment was passed. And I don’t think every person who was in any way involved in the events of Jan. 6 should be prohibited from ever running for office again, which would be the logical result of this ruling. Once you declare something to be insurrection or rebellion, how do you parse out how much of that is OK?

Griffin wasn’t running for re-election, and only had a few more weeks left in office anyway. But this ruling could set a precedent that impacts more than just him.

I’m not sure how we classify the events of Jan. 6, beyond the obvious fact that it was a violent mob that is now being sent to prison, one by one. The sooner the better. Those higher up the chain should be held responsible, but not under laws that haven’t been enforced in more than a century.

It comes down to a pretty fundamental question of who gets to pick our leaders, the voters or the courts.

Judges need to be standing on rock-solid ground when they take it upon themselves to overturn the results of an election whose legitimacy has never been contested.

Stretching the 14th Amendment to lump Trump supporters in with the Confederate rebels of the Civil War seems like anything but rock-solid to me.

Walter Rubel is a freelance journalist based in Las Cruces. His 40-plus-year career includes work in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and— since 2002 — in New Mexico, covering Las Cruces and the state Legislature. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Las Cruces Bulletin. Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel