A New Mexico state judge on Thursday ordered convicted Capitol rioter Couy Griffin to be removed from his county commissioner seat, ruling that the Cowboys for Trump founder’s involvement in the January 6, 2021, insurrection disqualified him from holding public office.
In a blistering 49-page opinion, Judge Francis Matthew formally labeled the Capitol attack as an insurrection and found that Griffin’s involvement fell under the so-called Disqualification Clause of the 14th Amendment, which bars anyone from holding office if they took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave “aid or comfort” to insurrectionists.
Matthews delivered a stern rebuke of Griffin’s participation in the Capitol attack and his subsequent efforts to “sanitize” his involvement.
“His protestations and his characterizations of his actions and the events of January 6, 2021 are not credible and amounted to nothing more than attempting to put lipstick on a pig,” Matthew wrote.
Matthews’ ruling came six months after a federal judge in Washington, DC, found Griffin guilty of trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds. In June, Griffin avoided a period of incarceration on that misdemeanor conviction, as Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, sentenced him to 14 days in prison but credited him for the 20 days he had already served behind bars.
In March, a day before Griffin’s conviction, a group of New Mexico residents filed a lawsuit under state law arguing for his removal from the Otero County commission. The group was represented by the government watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which hailed Thursday’s ruling as marking the first time since 1869 that a court has disqualified a public official for taking part in a rebellion or insurrection.
“This is a historic win for accountability for the January 6th insurrection and the efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. “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 January 6th insurrection can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions.”
At his trial, Griffin argued that the Justice Department could not prove that he was aware on January 6, 2021, that the grounds around the Capitol were restricted. His lawyer asserted that the ground were no longer restricted when Griffin entered them because then-Vice President Mike Pence had been rushed away to safety amid the violence of January 6.
That argument paved the way for a remarkable revelation. On the witness stand, a Secret Service inspector confirmed that Pence had never left the grounds but instead fled to an underground loading dock beneath the Capitol, where he remained for several hours on January 6.
While he stopped short of giving Griffin additional prison time, McFadden remarked at sentencing on the “grave tension” between his conduct on January 6 and his oath as a county commissioner in New Mexico to protect and defend the Constitution.
In the New Mexico court proceeding, Griffin argued that Matthews should refrain from unseating him and instead defer to the will of the people in Otero County who retained him against a recall effort.
Matthews said he was struck by the irony of Griffin making that argument while defending his participation in an “insurrection by a mob whose role, by his own admission, was to set aside the results of a free, fair and lawful election by a majority of the people of the entire country (the will of the people).”
That irony, he said, “has not escaped this court.”