A judge has ordered that a county official in New Mexico is “barred for life” and “constitutionally ineligible” to hold public office after he was convicted for his role in the attack on the US Capitol.
Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin – a founder of “Cowboys for Trump” – will be removed from office, effective immediately, according to the court’s order on 6 September.
Griffin was convicted on misdemeanor charges for his role in the Capitol riots on 6 January, 2021, and he recently refused to certify local election results, relying on debunked conspiracy theories about voting machines, fuelled by spurious legal challenges and false narratives from Donald Trump and his allies.
District Court Judge Francis J Mathew determined that Griffin is disqualified from office under Section 4 of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, holding that any person who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave “aid or comfort” to insurrectionists is disqualified from holding public office.
The judge’s order – the first in more than 100 years that a court has disqualified a public official from holding office – followed a lawsuit filed by a group of New Mexico residents.
Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which represented the plaintiffs, called the order a “historic win for accountability” in the wake of the attack.
“Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “This decision makes clear that any current or former public officials who took an oath to defend the US Constitution and then participated in the [6 January insurrection] can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions.”
The judge noted the “irony” of Griffin’s attempts to defend his actions and urge the court against “applying the law” despite participating in an “insurrection” with a “mob whose goal, by his own admission, was to set aside the results of a free, fair and lawful election.”
Griffin was sentenced on 17 June to 14 days in jail, which included time already served, and was fined $3,000 with one year of supervised release and 60 hours of community service.
He was convicted earlier this year on misdemeanour charges of entering a restricted area but was acquitted of disorderly conduct.
Video footage during the riots captured him saying he “has Mike Pence in our prayers” and hoped that the vice president overseeing the joint session of Congress to certify the outcome of the 2020 presidential election would “do the right thing” and reject results that reflect the votes of millions of Americans.
Griffin allegedly climbed a toppled fence and another barrier to reach the steps of the Capitol steps and used a bullhorn to call a mob to prayer. He reportedly did not go into the building or participate in violence.
Federal prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to at least three months in prison; he faced a maximum sentence of one year.
New Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered the Otero County Commission to certify 2022 primary election results after Griffin refused. The office of the state’s attorney general also threatened legal action if the commission failed to comply.
The commission ultimately voted two-to-one to approve the results, with Griffin maintaining his “no” vote.
His defiance alarmed pro-democracy groups and voting rights advocates who have repeatedly warned against the wave of election-denying candidates and officials running for offices responsible for administering or certifying election results, reviving Mr Trump’s persistent lie that the 2020 election was marred by fraud.
Their claims could erode public trust in the electoral process in an effort to legitimise antidemocratic takeovers of election administration, analysts have warned.