Destroying a Democracy to Save it: Democrats Call for the Disqualification of Dozens of Republican Members

Below is my column in The Hill on the continued calls to disqualify Republican members of Congress to prevent them from running for reelection. What is maddening is that Democratic groups and commentators are seeking to remove as many as 120 Republicans from the ballots in the name of democracy. It is like burning books in the name of literacy. Yet, on this anniversary of the January 6th riot, members of Congress and Democratic groups want to block voters from reelecting their preferred representatives. Like villages in Vietnam, it appears that some members and activists believe that you have to destroy democracy to save it from itself.

Here is the column:

This year, the Biden administration joined many in the United States in criticizing the mass disqualification of 583 candidates in Iran by the Guardian Council. The Iranian elections (like elections in other countries like China and Venezuela) are democratic only in the most artificial sense: You can freely vote from a pre-selected list of candidates.

Electoral disqualification systems are generally anathema to democratic values, but some in the United States are now toying with the idea for the 2022 or 2024 elections. While more modest than the Iranian model, the Democratic calls for disqualification are just as dangerous. What is most maddening is that this anti-democratic effort is cloaked in democratic doublespeak.

This week, Democratic lawyer Marc Elias predicted that 2022 would bring a renewed interest in disqualifying Republican members from office based on an obscure Civil War-era provision. Elias — the former Hilary Clinton campaign general counsel — is a well-known figure in Washington who has been prominently featured in the ongoing investigation of Special Counsel John Durham. Elias has founded a self-described “pro-democracy” group that challenges Republican voting laws and pledges to “shape our elections and democratic institutions for years to come.”

In the age of rage, nothing says democracy like preventing people from running for office.

Elias and others are suggesting that — rather than defeat Republicans at the polls — Democrats in Congress could disqualify the Republicans for supporting or encouraging the Jan. 6 “insurrection.” Last year, Democratic members called for the disqualification of dozens of Republicans. One, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) demanded the disqualification of the 120 House Republicans — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy(R-Calif.) — for simply signing a “Friend of the Court brief” (or amicus brief) in support of an election challenge from Texas.

These members and activists have latched upon the long-dormant provision in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — the “disqualification clause” — which was written after the 39th Congress convened in December 1865 and many members were shocked to see Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president, waiting to take a seat with an array of other former Confederate senators and military officers.

Justice Edwin Reade of the North Carolina Supreme Court later explained, “[t]he idea [was] that one who had taken an oath to support the Constitution and violated it, ought to be excluded from taking it again.” So, members drafted a provision that declared that “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

By declaring the Jan. 6th riot an “insurrection,” some Democratic members of Congress and liberal activists hope to bar incumbent Republicans from running. Even support for court filings is now being declared an act of rebellion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped fuel this movement — before Jan. 6 even occurred — by declaring that the Republicans supporting election challenges were “subverting the Constitution by their reckless and fruitless assault on our democracy which threatens to seriously erode public trust in our most sacred democratic institutions, and to set back our progress on the urgent challenges ahead.”

Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. I publicly condemned President Trump’s speech that day while it was being given — and I denounced the riot as a “constitutional desecration.” However, it has not been treated legally as an insurrection. Those charged for their role in the attack that day are largely facing trespass and other less serious charges — rather than insurrection or sedition. That’s because this was a riot that was allowed to get out of control by grossly negligent preparations by Capitol Police and congressional officials. While the FBI launched a massive national investigation, it did not find evidence of an insurrection.

With an ominous mid-term election approaching, much of the effort among Democrats on the Hill and in the media has been to keep the enmity alive from Jan. 6. In what seemed almost a hopeful plea, the New York Times recently declared “Every Day is Now Jan. 6.” It made this tragedy sound like the political equivalent of a year-round Christmas store: Every day should involve a renewed gift of reminiscence and rage.

The saddest aspect of this politicization of the Jan. 6 riot is that many of us wanted a full, transparent, and apolitical investigation. House Republicans rejected that idea, but there remain many questions to be answered — which has not happened. Instead, we have an effort to encode the notion of an actual insurrection through mantra-like repetition.

The Constitution fortunately demands more than proof by repetition. In this case, it requires an actual rebellion. The clause Democrats are citing was created in reference to a real Civil War in which over 750,000 people died in combat. The confederacy formed a government, an army, a currency, and carried out diplomatic missions.

Conversely, Jan. 6 was a protest that became a riot.

That is not meant to diminish the legitimate outrage over the day. It was reprehensible — but only a “rebellion” in the most rhetorical sense.

More importantly, even if you adopt a dangerously broad definition of “insurrection” or “rebellion,” members of Congress who supported challenging the electoral votes (as Democrats have done in prior years) were exercising constitutionally protected speech.

Moreover, the Democrats cannot simply use their razor-thin majority to disqualify opponents willy-nilly. Punishments like expulsions take two-thirds votes, and any disqualifications can be challenged in the court.

Indeed, not long after ratification in 1869, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ruled in a circuit opinion that the clause was not self-executing. He suggested that allowing Congress to simply bar political opponents from office would be a form of punishment without due process and would likely violate the prohibition on bills of attainder.

As Democrats push to federalize elections and negate the laws in a couple dozen states, figures like Elias are now suggesting that Republicans could also be listed as “rebels” and barred from the ballot. Congress would then control not just how states conduct their elections but even who can appear on such ballots.

The renewed calls for disqualifications may be simply reckless rhetoric timed for the anniversary of the riot. After all, every day would not be Jan. 6 without the requisite rage. However, it is reason — not rage — that we need right now.

A recent poll showed that one in three Americans believes that violence against the government can be justified. It often seems like some want to trigger an actual rebellion by disenfranchising parts of our population. The fact is that there are people who traffic and profit in rage, and we are all the poorer for it.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

154 thoughts on “Destroying a Democracy to Save it: Democrats Call for the Disqualification of Dozens of Republican Members”

  1. “Ask not! What your country can do for you. Ask. What you can do for your country!”
    – JFK
    It was an insurrection. Vote out those who promoted it or who respect it.

    1. House Democrats as usual have a short memory and double standards when it comes these kinds of matters.

      The Republicans filed a Court Brief….and the Democrats want to ban them from running for Office.

      The Democrats did a Sit-In and obstructed Congress for 26 hours……but that is just fine and dandy for them.

      If you ignore history you and play stupid games….you will earn stupid prizes.

      Let’s see how the upcoming elections go.

      You Lefties just love the UK’s most liberal news outlet don’t you…..hard to challenge this source isn’t it?

    2. in·sur·rec·tion
      Learn to pronounce
      noun: insurrection; plural noun: insurrections
      a violent uprising against an authority or government.

      Jan 6 was not an insurgency. The only one killed was Ashley Babbitt, one of the protestors, a small, unarmed woman who was not striking anyone at the time. Most of them took selfies. Most of them were charged with illegally parading and trespassing. There were a few broken windows. No one was charged with treason or attempting to overthrow the government, violently or otherwise.

      BLM and Antifa rioting, committing arson, destroying a police precinct, seizing control of entire city blocks and calling it an autonomous zone and threatening violence to people to want to enter public property, and threatening to burn entire cities unless a court verdict or politics go their way would be examples of insurrection. Notably, Democrats supported this insurrection and looting, all the way up to Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Kamala Harris. “People do what they will do.” “I don’t know why there aren’t uprisings. Maybe there will be.” And Kamala told us to “beware” because it “will continue and should continue.”

      So, by your own standards, no one should be charged with insurrection for Jan 6, but most Democrats should be for inciting and supporting violence, looting, arson, and the assault of police officers that gripped the nation for a year.

      Should I include video of America burning for reference? And you want to compare people trying to protest on the Senate floor with looting, arson, and anarchy? I’m curious. How do you support that level of cognitive dissonance. How are you mentally able to ignore riots, looting, arson, murder….? For a year? In major Democrat strongholds? What about all the businesses that closed forever due to Leftist rioting?

      The Jan 6 protestors were charged with trespassing and illegally parading. One guy was pulled over with a gun in his vehicle, but there is not evidence, that I’ve found, that it was anywhere on his person at the Capitol. There were broken windows. All of that was wrong. You don’t throw someone in solitary for 9 months for that. Meanwhile, most of the those Democrats who looted, rioted, burned, and assaulted people were’t even charged.

      That’s not justice. That’s Stalin.

      1. You are incorrect. There were 2 people killed that day by police. A lady was murdered in the tunnel by DC police.

  2. Professor Turley, it is with sadness and fear that I say that these are the most important words I have ever read from you.

  3. Wait? I thought JT was in favor of following the constitution?!? I guess that all goes away when Rs are on the line.
    They tried a coup, kick em out.

    1. Typical garbage from one with no credibility.

      Let us hear the law and then your interpretation. We all need a good laugh.

  4. “The saddest aspect of this politicization of the Jan. 6 riot is that many of us wanted a full, transparent, and apolitical investigation. House Republicans rejected that idea, but there remain many questions to be answered — which has not happened.” I believe the Republicans offered Nancy Pelosi the names of several Republicans to sit on that investigative committee, all of which were rejected by Mrs. Pelosi. There were supposed to be 13 on the committee but there are only 9 and the 2 Republicans were hand-picked by Pelosi. Mr. Turley, I believe it is grossly unfair of you to suggest the Republicans didn’t want a transparent investigation when indeed it was the Democrats who rejected that idea.

    1. The Rs wanted to put members on the committee who openly supported the coup and intended to sabotage the committee. Pelosi was right to reject them.

      1. Sammy: Sabotage the committee? You mean, offer an alternative explanation for the event? Pelosi knew what she was doing, and she knew she could get away with it. She wanted the committee to be hand-picked Trump haters because this committee was never about the people who rioted, or even about the riot. This committee was intended to find, or invent criminal charges against Trump to keep him from running in 2024. As for the general call to prevent complicit Republicans from running — that’s just a smokescreen. In the end, the big compromise will be keeping Trump off the ballot. And both Dems and Republicans will agree to it.

        1. Giocon1 says:

          “In the end, the big compromise will be keeping Trump off the ballot. And both Dems and Republicans will agree to it.”

          The majority of Republicans want Trump to go away. They can’t say so publicly. Time and again, we are told what Republicans think of Trump privately. I suspect that many Republicans would secretly applaud if Trump is found guilty of some tax crime to give them an excuse to move beyond him. Of course, the Trumpist dead-enders will accuse those Republicans of betrayal. It could get pretty, pretty, pretty ugly.

      2. “. . . to sabotage the committee . . .”

        “sabotage” = Ask questions and raise issues that make Pelosi feel uncomfortable.

      3. The investigation was in part to determine what happened. There was no coup. Pelosi made that up and then made up the conspirators of the coup. In that way, she had her own coup, a committee that agreed with her from the start and would only look at things that supported her lie.

        Sammy needs to assume his own identity instead of that of ATS.

    2. The House sent a bill to the Senate that would have given Republican and Democratic members of Congress equal control over the membership of a National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex  — — and the Senate Republicans filibustered it. Because of the Senate Republicans, there was no National Commission, and instead it’s only a House Select Committee with membership controlled by the Speaker, as is the case for all Select Committees.

      It’s absolutely fair “to suggest the Republicans didn’t want a transparent investigation.” Turley is only wrong in blaming House Republicans, when it’s the Senate Republicans who are to blame.

      1. One can argue either way about what the Senate did, but Pelosi had full control of this committee in the House and she created a Kangaroo Court. She is acting like a fascist and the way he uses her power is what needs to be focused on.

  5. Well, if that’s the rule, then any Democrat who has ever contested a Republican win or supported the 2020 BLM riots like the VP is also disqualified

  6. I disagree completely with the comment that House Republicans rejected the idea of an apolitical investigation. They put people on the committee who were removed by Pelosi. She was responsible. The Republicans had every right to their choices. She is the one who put on very-political Republican representatives.

      1. Sammy, you are saying that the left didn’t want any investigation of what happened. They tried to exclude anyone with a different opinion. Do you recognize how foolish what you said sounds?

  7. When you add up all the quirky, illegal, unconstitutional, and insane propositions coming out of the Democrat party, the only conclusion I can draw is they’ve gone barking mad. Yes, we need a purge, but the people will see to it when they vote in November.

    1. Unless Chicago rules are in force. If you are unfamiliar with them, a link to a Chicago Tribune article on how elections were won in 1996 and a second on how to defeat and opponent by unsealing divorce records.
      If you can’t convince the voters to support you, you can always try to limit their choice of whom to support. That’s what they do in China and North Korea and other places.

  8. Let me see you have no problem with wholesale disenfranchisement of minorities and Democrats but you object to disqualifying those who incited the violent attempt to overthrow the results of a legitimate election by force as provided for in the Constitution? Is that because those who may qualify for this Constitutional ban are Republicans?

    1. Let me see you have no problem with wholesale disenfranchisement of minorities

      I always ask for a specific cite. No one has even attempted to enter into such a discussion. Repeating the lie ad nauseum does not make it true. So cite the law or proposed law.

      you object to disqualifying those who incited the violent attempt to overthrow the results of a legitimate election by force as provided for in the Constitution?
      Another lie. 1872 Amnesty Act clarifies the 14th amendment is limited to Civil War contemporaries.
      Disqualifying Senators and Representative is the soul job of the electorate. The People have the right to elect who they choose.

        1. Sammy. It has nothing to do with acts. It has to do with qualifiying or disqualifying circumstances to serve in the Senate and the House.

          The Amnesty Act of 1872 declares section 3 of the 14th amendment only applies to Senators and Representatives of the 36th and 37th Congress.

          I provided the relevant text in my earlier post. Read the source document before you spit out a talking point about a subject beyond your intellect.

          1. It does not say that. It says that the prohibition is lifted for all but those Senators and Reps. It does not in any way say that the Amendment only applies to them. Also an after the fact act of Congress has no bearing at all on the meaning of the Constitution.How out of it do you have to be to lie about what you yourself have posted.

    2. Justice Holmes is totally wrong he needs an education between right and wrong he was educated in the wrong school of life!

    3. Justice Holmes: “wholesale disenfranchisement of minorities and Democrats” — WOW. What have you been smoking?

  9. Does the Professor finally acknowledge that our Dem party is right on the precipice of fascism? I don’t think they care if they ultimately prevail with their disqualifications; as with many other issues over the past year, creating chaos and tying up our courts for the requisite amount of time will do just fine. They are a plague on a free society, period. The ongoing malfeasance tells me there is no question 2020’s election was interfered with – they simply didn’t have time then to do it this broadly. I have not seen anything like it in my lifetime.

      1. Tell us how.

        Democrats want total control. Isn’t that what is wanted by all fascists?

      2. You really aren’t fooling or convincing anyone, and no one here believes you are a judge. Your response was equivalent to, ‘I know you are, but what am I?!’. Pfft.

      3. JH:

        Yeah the Repubs have aligned with the techno-industrialists of the day, singled out groups they hate and scapegoated an entire racial group all the while pursuing the Big Lie with their friends in the mainstrem media and imposing their will on the population with stupid mandates ala Germany in the 30s. Ooops that’s the Dims. Sorry about the mix up.

  10. “Elias and others are suggesting that — rather than defeat Republicans at the polls — Democrats in Congress could disqualify the Republicans for supporting or encouraging the Jan. 6 “insurrection. Last year, Democratic members called for the disqualification of dozens of Republicans. One, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) demanded the disqualification of the 120 House Republicans — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy(R-Calif.) — for simply signing a “Friend of the Court brief” (or amicus brief) in support of an election challenge from Texas.””
    If you can’t beat ’em, disqualify them. The Dims must truly want a November Red Tide of Biblical proportions. They’ll get it. Build that ark, Nancy!

    PS Is it me or does Rep. Bill Pascrell look eerily similar to Art Carney who played bumbling foil, Ed Norton, to Jackie Gleason’s Ralph
    Kramden on the Honeymooners? Naw, Norton was brighter.

  11. The Democrat politicians in Washington DC don’t care one bit about “Democracy”, all they care about gaining power, to them the ends justifies the means.

    1. Some Republican and Democratic politicians throughout the U S. don’t care one bit about “Democracy,” all they care about gaining power, to them the ends justifies the means. Other Republican and Democratic politicians throughout the U.S. care a great deal about democracy.


      Americans are better served by truthful discussion than biased hyperbole.

  12. Saw the NYT article on 1/6.

    It claimed that seven Americans, including three police officers died in the attack.

    Lefties lie.

  13. How can anyone call what happened on January 6th 2021 a riot or an insurrection when the capital police actually let the “rioters” enter the capital building. They literally saw a group of people approaching and removed the barriers. Almost as if they were saying that that day was an “open house” at the capital, with free admittance for everyone.

  14. Can’t imagine what would happen if the Dems succeeded in blocking preferred candidates, but it would be ugly.

    It would certainly give the violent people an excuse.

    Everyone, especially lefties (since there would be destroyers of the republic are your people) should speak up against this proposed abomination.

    In fact, this might become the litmus test on being an American.

  15. Over at Legal Insurrection they point out the 1872 Amnesty Act. It is Amnesty for all Senators and Reprsentatives, except those at the time of the Civil War.
    So there really is no constitutional route for what this lawyer is claiming. As always, the stenographers in the media knowingly refuse to give the full story.
    Disappointed Turely did not point out this little factoid.

    “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled [two-thirds of each house concurring therein), That all political disabilities imposed by the third section of the fourteenth article of the amendments of the Constitution of the United States are hereby removed from all persons whomever, except Senators and Representatives of the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh Congresses, officers in the judicial, military, and naval service of the United States, heads of departments, and foreign ministers of the United States.”

  16. “They were driven beyond all bounds of moderation by the apprehension of the return of power …” (Edmund Burke). Here, change “return of” to “maintaining” and you win the Golden Ticket

  17. 25 House Dems have retirement in sight and won’t be seeking re-election. For the Dems to try and pull off this “disqualification” stunt they probably have a bunch of left wing crazies in-line to replace them? Better start now with the distraction’s.

  18. Aside from the fallacy of equivocation, in this case using an extremely broad interpretation of “insurrection”, there are several types of sophistry at play in the beating of the Jan. 6 dead horse. One fallacy is the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this, because of this). “The riot began after Trump’s speech therefore Trump caused the riot. A second closely related fallacy is the mistaking reasons and causes. “If Trump had not spoken the riot would not have happened, therefore Trump caused the riot.” But even if the speech highlighted made the crowd madder, it still doesn’t entail that Trump was the blamable cause. Compare: “If the US had not gone into Arabia to fight the first Gulf War, Osama would not have flown planes into the World Trade Center”. That was his stated reason, but that is not the blamable cause of the terrorism. The blame goes to the terrorists despite flimsy excuses.
    The last bit of sophistry that I will mention is well known by the critics of the blame Trump harangue. That is the fallacy that repetition of accusation replaces evidence. It is one type of “herd mentality”. Why is that so widespread nowadays? I’m sure that many critics of wokeness have thought: that internet and media sensationalism have replaced in depth thinking on issues. It seems like people are fairly good at their work specialty and use it to make money, but maybe don’t take enough time to think through news issues preferring in some cases to use the bandwagon leap of faith in partisan pronouncements That has always been the somewhat true, but now it seems like a tidal wave of thoughtlessness. Sometimes we do need to rely on what “they say” for trivial matters that we don’t have time to dwell on like which fast food place to eat. Sometimes the default to public opinion is a time saver. But this type of economy of thought is not well suited for political issues that concern more serious problems. The internet social media is a perfect technology for the flourishing of popular “memes” that are really only connected to each other without being tied to deeper reasons. They have breadth without depth. For politics and other serious issues “hierarchical thinking” based on deeper understandings of real evidence such as historical fact, valid logic and leading back to basic principles, ethics and political philosophy provides a grounding for thought. (I used to grade my philosophy student papers not on their opinion itself, but how deep the and valid reasoning process runs.) The lack of fundamental knowledge provided by schools and the rising tide of mere meme duplication on the internet only adds to the stiffening of polarization, and becomes the fertile field for partisan exploitation.

    1. RD: Well said. It seems that the Dems have decided their base is too stupid for analysis, thought and reasoning, and have opted to go with emotional appeals, lies and bumper-sticker virtue signaling.

    2. Trump began lying about his “victory” being stolen even before Election Day and that’s because all polls predicted he would lose, and he can’t stand to lose. Despite losing, he took a victory lap about 2:00 a.m., and then went on “Stop the Steal” tours to rile up the faithful and told them to come to the Capitol because “it’s going to be wild”. He tried to bully state election officials to steal votes cast for Biden and filed dozens of frivolous lawsuits. His minions, like disgraced suspended attorney Giuliani, made speeches claiming all sorts of things that were lies, like voting machines being rigged, mail ballots being fraudulent, thousands of dead people voting, etc.. He exhorted his followers to “hope Mike Pence does the right thing”, which was to refuse the validated election results, something he could not do. But, he did get some stupid Republican members of Congress to object to the certified vote results, all without any evidence of fraud. The speech on Jan. 6th was just one stop along the route to the insurrection that Trump set the stage for even before Election Day, so your argument about cause and effect focusing just on what Trump said on Jan. 6th, is pathetic. Trump did cause the riot–by lying–starting even before the election. He still refuses to shut up and go away. He only cancelled his speech today when he found out that major networks would not cover it, and that it could set him back politically.

  19. Sorry Professor Turley…..the Democrats only want to save it for themselves and retain power forever.

    That is behind their Voting Rights Act, ending the Senate Filibuster Rule, and accepting only those Districting Maps they gerrymander favoring them.

    They do not give a hoot about democracy, the republic form of government, or anything else besides getting into power and keeping it at all costs.

    Perpetual Singe Party rule is their ambition and goal….and sadly we get to see how hopeless they are upon obtaining full control of the government as they have.

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