Thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters mobbed the U.S. Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
Two prominent advocacy groups are supporting efforts to remove Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from his elected position and to prevent him from running for any public office in the future due to his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin, a Republican, is the founder of Cowboys for Trump and an ardent supporter of baseless claims of election fraud. He appeared in court Aug. 15 and Aug. 16 in a two-day bench trial where he represented himself. Judge Francis J. Mathew, who presided over the trial, is expected to deliver a ruling by next week.
Both Common Cause New Mexico and the NAACP threw their support behind the push to end Griffin’s days in office by filing briefs with the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe last week.
Common Cause’s mission is to be a voice for the people and to hold the powerful to account, said Heather Ferguson, the director of state operations. In Griffin’s case, she said, so far that hasn’t happened.
“He has shown that as he remains in his elected position, he is going to continue to utilize that pulpit to sow discord and disinformation about our election systems, violate state laws, and supersede authority,” she said.
Griffin was among the mob that stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the election. This year, his was the sole commission vote against certifying Primary Election results in Otero County in mid-June.
Leaving him in his current elected position continues to pose a threat to our democratic processes, and to sow distrust with the public in our safe and secure elections.
– Heather Ferguson, Common Cause NM
Common Cause New Mexico filed what’s known as an amicus curiae brief on Aug. 25. This is a petition filed by a person or group that is not part of the lawsuit but has a strong interest in the outcome. The aim of the brief is to influence the court’s decision.
Common Cause’s brief called Griffin an insurrectionist and a conspiracy theorist who has “placed partisanship and loyalty to a dangerous political faction over his sworn loyalty to the Constitution.”
In an email to Source New Mexico, Griffin took issue with the label of insurrectionist.
“When considering an alleged act of ‘insurrection,’ this has to be brought before Congress and entertained on a federal level. Not in a state District Court,” Griffin said. “The reason nobody to date has been charged with ‘insurrection’ is because the only ones who call Jan. 6 an insurrection is the liberal left and the fake news media.”
The NAACP filed its own amicus curiae brief on Aug. 23 impugning claims made by Griffin that he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights that day in D.C. and that removing him from office would “disenfranchise voters.” The brief also addressed comments made by Griffin during his trial where he compared the actions of rioters at the Capitol to Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
“The NAACP submits this amicus brief in order to explain to the court why the conduct by Griffin and the other insurrectionists was not protected under the First Amendment” and why the “peaceful, lawful protests and demonstrations in support of civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement are fundamentally different from the insurrectionist conduct that occurred on Jan. 6,” the brief stated in part.
“Throughout its 113-year existence, one of the NAACP’s core missions has been to protect minorities’ right to vote and to combat voter disenfranchisement and suppression,” the brief stated.
Where, as here, a public official participates in an insurrection against the government of the United States, he forfeits his right to hold public office. He is responsible for his own actions, and his removal from office does not constitute an impermissible ‘disenfranchisement’ of voters. – NAACP
Where, as here, a public official participates in an insurrection against the government of the United States, he forfeits his right to hold public office. He is responsible for his own actions, and his removal from office does not constitute an impermissible ‘disenfranchisement’ of voters.
Griffin said that he’s tried to work with the NAACP in the past by attempting to rename the road into the Otero County Detention Center, which is currently named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s a shame that the NAACP was unresponsive to my request of trying to work with them in August of last year,” Griffin said. “I guess that effort didn’t fit inside the NAACP’s political agenda.”
Griffin also took issue with the content of the briefs filed by the NAACP and Common Cause, asserting that both groups were seeking to harm his political career.
“These briefs all fail to do one thing. That is point to the letter of the law,” Griffin said. “They are full of biased and political opinions where they gaslight previous emotional statements that I’ve made and are merely smear tactics to try and hurt me politically.”
The pending case the briefs are attached to was initially filed in March by three New Mexicans, Marco White, Mark Mitchell and Leslie Lakind.
In the 259-page petition, the three plaintiffs argued that Griffin should be removed from his seat on the Otero County Commission and disqualified from holding public office on the basis of a clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment asserts that anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution should be barred from office for engaging in insurrection or rebellion, or giving aid or comfort to the nation’s enemies.
Griffin was arrested on Jan. 18, 2021, and charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and with disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building.
This summer, Griffin was convicted of illegally entering or remaining on restricted grounds and sentenced to 14 days in jail, but was given credit for time served. He was also ordered to pay $500 in restitution, issued a $3,000 fine and ordered to complete community service. He is also to serve one year of supervised release.
Around the same time, the Republican Otero County commissioners initially refused to certify the results of the June 7 primary election. The commissioners cited distrust of vote-counting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that has been the target of many of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about fraudulent 2020 election results.
Under pressure from the New Mexico Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office, the board ultimately voted 2-1 to certify the results on the same day that Griffin was sentenced. Griffin, the holdout, did not cite any evidence of voter fraud but instead cited a “gut feeling” as the reason he would not vote to certify the election results.
Ferguson with Common Cause said that Griffin’s actions are a clear violation of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and prove he would continue to violate both the state and U.S. Constitutions should he hold any other elected office.
“He has no intention of stopping anything he is doing, and he’s not repentant in the slightest for his actions thus far, so he needs to be precluded from running for office again,” Ferguson said. “He laughs at all branches of government and seems to believe he is impervious to the rule of law.”
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