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What is the ‘Disqualification Clause,’ and how can it be used against members of the House and Senate?

A group of voters in North Carolina is challenging Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s eligibility to run for reelection, arguing his actions on Jan. 6 and support for overturning the election disqualifies him under a constitutional clause barring any federal official who has “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.

“I think there’s certainly enough evidence on the public record as it now stands for a finding that he engaged in, assisted, aided and abetted the insurrection on and surrounding Jan. 6,” said Robert Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice and one of the lawyers representing the voters challenging Cawthorn, a conservative firebrand and diehard Donald Trump supporter.

What’s Disqualification from Public Office Under the 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution following the Civil War. Its primary purposewas to grant citizenship to all people born in the United States and guarantees “equal protection under the law” to all citizens of the nation. 

However, Section 3 of the amendment — the “Disqualification Clause” — prevents anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from becoming a senator, representative, or to “hold any office, civil or military.” 

It reads as follows: 

“No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

This also allows Congress to vote to strip any individual of their capability of being a member or being capable of running for office.

The original intent of the section was to prevent former members of the Confederacy to regain power in the government after receiving a presidential pardon. 

Many political analysts have said that the Disqualification Clause could be used as a punitive measure against several members of Congress following the insurrection against the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

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