Lawsuit aims to keep Pennsylvania congressman off ballot over Constitution’s insurrection clause

Jan 2, 2024, 4:45 PM

FILE - Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chair of the House Freedom Caucus, speaks during a news conference ...

FILE - Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chair of the House Freedom Caucus, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2023. Texts and emails sent by Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have emerged publicly in a court filing that hints at how Perry worked to keep Donald Trump in office after his 2020 election loss. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A liberal activist asked a Pennsylvania court on Tuesday to bar U.S. Rep. Scott Perry from the state’s primary ballot, arguing that Perry isn’t eligible because of his efforts to keep President Donald Trump in office and block the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden.

The seven-page lawsuit asks Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court to declare that Perry engaged in insurrectionist activity and cannot hold public office under the Constitution’s insurrection clause. The lawsuit by activist Gene Stilp names Perry and Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, Al Schmidt.

Perry, a Republican, is expected to run for a seventh term, although candidates cannot file paperwork yet to qualify for Pennsylvania’s April 23 primary ballot.

In part, the filing cites Perry’s role in trying to use the Department of Justice to help Trump stall the certification of the election by installing an acting attorney general who would be receptive to Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

The challenge comes on the heels of Maine’s Democratic secretary of state removing Trump from the state’s presidential primary ballot under the clause and a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that booted Trump from the ballot there. Trump is expected to appeal both to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump appeals Maine ruling barring him from ballot under the Constitution’s insurrection clause

In a statement, Perry’s lawyer, John P. Rowley, suggested that those appeals would ensure that the lawsuit against Perry is nullified.

“This lawsuit was filed by a partisan activist who clearly has no regard or understanding of how our Democratic Republic works,” Rowley wrote. “It is but the latest effort by an extremist to disqualify a duly elected official with whom he disagrees. We are confident the Supreme Court will put an end to this lunacy.”

Perry has not been charged with a crime, although he is the only sitting member of Congress whose cellphone was seized by the FBI in its investigation into efforts to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Perry has fought efforts by federal investigators to review texts and emails from his cell phone. A judge last month ordered Perry to turn over more than 1,600 texts and emails to FBI agents. Perry did not appeal it, his lawyer said.

Schmidt’s office declined comment Tuesday. It previously opposed a similar lawsuit in federal court seeking to remove Trump from the ballot in Pennsylvania. Stilp last week withdrew that lawsuit, and plans to file a new lawsuit in state court, saying he has a better chance of success there than in federal court.

The 155-year-old Civil War-era clause — Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — bars from office those who “engaged in insurrection.” It was designed to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War from returning to Congress.

Similar challenges in 2022 failed to block several other members of Congress from ballots, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona.

To get on Pennsylvania’s primary ballot, candidates cannot file paperwork until Jan. 23. The deadline to file is Feb. 13.


Follow Marc Levy at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.

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Lawsuit aims to keep Pennsylvania congressman off ballot over Constitution’s insurrection clause