Georgia's top election official said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will remain on the GOP primary ballot following a judge's ruling earlier Friday that rejected a bid to remove her over actions tied to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"In this case, Challengers assert that Representative Greene’s political statements and actions disqualify her from office. That is rightfully a question for the voters of Georgia’s 14th Congressional District," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a decision upholding an administrative law judge's ruling.
Free Speech for People, an election and campaign finance reform organization, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of Georgia voters to kick Greene off the primary ballot, arguing she helped incite the Jan. 6 riot that disrupted the official tallying of the Electoral College votes.
They cited the 14th Amendment's prohibition on anyone who engages in insurrection against the U.S. government from running for federal or state office.
Greene denied the group's constitutional claims when she testified in a court hearing last month, insisting she was simply exercising her First Amendment right to free speech with her baseless claims that the 2020 election had been "stolen" from former President Donald Trump.
In his 19-page ruling, Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Beaudrot said the challengers "failed to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence."
They did not sufficiently establish that Greene "engaged in insurrection or rebellion ... or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies" under the 14th Amendment, the judge wrote on Friday, concluding that Greene is qualified to be a candidate.
Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, criticized the ruling, saying it "betrays the fundamental purpose" of the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist disqualification clause and "gives a pass to political violence as a tool for disrupting and overturning free and fair elections."
In a statement, Greene praised the judge for "his correct ruling."
"Thankfully this attempt to rig another election was stopped in its tracks," she said.
In his ruling, the judge said he did not focus on Greene's “heated political rhetoric” from before Jan. 3, 2021, when she was sworn in as a member of Congress and took the oath to uphold the Constitution.
"Her public statements and heated rhetoric may well have contributed to the environment that ultimately led to the Invasion. But expressing constitutionally-protected political views, no matter how aberrant they may be, prior to being sworn in as a Representative is not engaging in insurrection under the 14th Amendment," he wrote.
Beaudrot noted that Greene denied being involved in any planning for the “invasion” of the Capitol, and said the challengers didn’t provide evidence to the contrary.
The challengers had pointed to a comment Greene made in a Jan. 5 interview with Newsmax when she said the next day would be “our 1776 moment.” The group called that remark “a literal call to arms to storm the Capitol.”
The judge, however, said it was too “ambiguous” to disqualify Greene from the ballot.
“Heated political rhetoric? Yes. Encouragement to supporters of efforts to prevent certification of the election of President Biden? Yes. Encouragement to attend the Save America Rally or other rallies and to demonstrate against the certification of the election results? Yes. A call to arms for consummation of a pre-planned violent revolution? No,” Beaudrot wrote.
“It is impossible for the Court to conclude from this vague, ambiguous statement that Rep. Greene was complicit in a months-long enterprise to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power without making an enormous unsubstantiated leap,” he added.
Under Georgia law, administrative law judges send their findings in election challenges to the secretary of state, who makes the final decision on eligibility.
The secretary of state typically has 30 days to issue a ruling, but Raffensperger, a Republican who tangled with Trump over his false claims of election fraud in the state, issued his determination just hours after Beaudrot's decision was made public.
The primary is scheduled for May 24.