Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin was among a few dozen people, many of them members of a violent extremist organization, at a ‘Justice for J6’ rally at the Arizona capital in Phoenix in September 2021. (Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy / Arizona Mirror)
Former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin filed a notice of appeal with the New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday, indicating that he plans to challenge a ruling earlier this month barring him from holding elected office for his participation in the Capitol riot.
The following day, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — one of the groups that represented New Mexico residents suing to have Griffin removed — sent a letter to Congress calling for them to consider barring other current and future elected officials from office.
Judge Francis J. Mathew ordered Griffin removed from office under the 14th Amendment, which holds that no one who took an oath to support the Constitution can serve in state or federal elected office if they engage in insurrection. Mathew found that the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, met the definition of “insurrection” under the 14th Amendment, and that all of Griffin’s votes as a County Commissioner since then are invalid.
R.B. Nichols, the Otero County attorney, said at a meeting this month that he is reviewing the commission’s votes to determine if Griffin cast the deciding vote in any of them.
“We continue to believe that Judge Mathew’s decision removing Mr. Griffin from office based on his participation in the January 6, 2021 insurrection was correct based on the relevant facts and law,” CREW Vice President and Chief Counsel Donald Sherman said in a statement. “We look forward to representing our clients as this case moves to this next phase.”
Griffin was convicted of entering and remaining in a restricted area for his participation in the riot and sentenced to 14 days in jail by Trump-appointed federal Judge Trevor McFadden, though he had already served the time in pretrial detention and did not face additional jail time. Immediately following his sentencing, he called in to an Otero County Commission meeting to defy an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court directing the commission to certify the results of the June primary election. Griffin was the only commissioner who voted to defy the court’s order, and the results were approved.
Griffin represented himself during the 14th Amendment lawsuit, and his notice to appeal was also filed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney. In an interview, he said he hasn’t been able to find a lawyer to take his case.
“It’s hard to get legal counsel when you’re in the hot seat, and it seems like every lawyer that I’ve spoken to or have shown interest in defending me all of a sudden gets cold feet as soon as they start considering the attack that they’re going to come under,” he said. “I haven’t been able to find a lawyer with a backbone to stand up to this.”
Griffin said he plans to argue that Mathew didn’t have jurisdiction to order his removal from office, and that the plaintiffs in the suit didn’t suffer injury since they don’t live in Otero County. He said it was unfair to remove him from office since an earlier recall effort against him failed, and he accused Mathew, without evidence, of bowing to political pressure.
“Judge Mathew took away the voice of the people of District 2 (in Otero County), and he did so in a very unjust way,” Griffin said. “He was not as concerned with following the letter of the law as he was with bending to his political influencers … We hear so often today that ‘our democracy is under attack, our democracy is under attack,’ but nowhere is that more relevant than in my case.”
Griffin added that if his appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court fails, he plans to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, “where that should be heard anyway.”
In its letter to Congress, CREW argued that more elected officials should be removed under the 14th Amendment, though the organization did not name any specific people.
“Although the court’s decision sets a high bar for disqualification, we believe there are other current and former office holders throughout the country who, under the court’s standard, should be disqualified from office. The obligation to exclude and disqualify these individuals will be borne by many federal and state officials throughout our country, but Congress has a particularly important role to play” in judging whether its own members should be disqualified, CREW wrote.
In an interview, CREW Senior Counsel Nikhel Sus said part of the intent of the letter was simply to ensure Congress is aware of Griffin’s removal from office.
“This was the first time a court has weighed in on these questions since Jan. 6,” he said. “We thought it was important to notify Congress about the ruling.”
Griffin’s case shows the dangers of allowing Capitol rioters to remain in elected office, Sus said.
“Mr. Griffin is kind of case in point. … He continued to deny the validity of the 2020 election and sow discord and distrust in our electoral system” even after his federal conviction, Sus said. “You can’t have people in government who will not play by the rules of government. If you don’t have basic democratic guardrails in terms of what is in bounds and not in bounds, then the whole system falls apart.”
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