US Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene on Friday told a lawyer for voters seeking to disqualify her from running for re-election that she did not know how to answer a question about whether she advocates violence against people with whom she disagrees.
Ms Greene testified in a Georgia state court in Atlanta in a novel legal challenge to her candidacy accusing her of violating a US Constitution provision called the "Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause" by supporting an incendiary rally that preceded last year's attack on the US Capitol.
Andrew Celli, a lawyer for the voters, asked Ms Greene during the hearing before administrative law judge Charles Beaudrot whether she advocates political violence against people with whom she disagrees.
"I don't think so," Greene replied. "I don't know how to answer that."
The Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause, passed after the US Civil War in the 1860s, prohibits politicians from running for Congress if they have engaged in "insurrection or rebellion" or "given aid or comfort" to the nation's enemies.
"I was asking people to come for a peaceful march, which everyone is entitled to do," Ms Greene said. "I was not asking them to actively engage in violence."
The voter challenge is being spearheaded by a group called Free Speech for People that advocates for campaign finance reform.
A similar challenge backed by the same group against Republican US Representative Madison Cawthorn failed when a federal judge in North Carolina dismissed that suit on March 4.
Ron Fein, a lawyer for the voters seeking Ms Greene's disqualification, said in his opening remarks the congresswoman played an "important role" in instigating the attack on the US Capitol.
"In some cases, the mask falls and she shows us exactly what she intended," Mr Fein said.
Ms Greene is seeking re-election this year, with the Republican primary scheduled for May 24 and the general election on November 8.
During media interviews, Ms Greene has downplayed and justified the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters in their failed bid to block congressional certification of Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.
Ms Greene this month said Democrats and journalists have pushed an "over-dramatisation" of that day's events.
Ms Greene's lawyer, James Bopp, argued during his opening remarks that removing her from the ballot would be both unfair to her and to voters in her conservative-leaning district.
Ms Greene is expected to appeal any ruling against her, and has already brought parallel litigation in US federal court seeking to halt the administrative proceeding.
In a recent court filing, Ms Greene's lawyers said she "vigorously denies that she aided and engaged in insurrection to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power”.
"Fundamentally, First Amendment rights are at stake, not only the right to vote, as I've mentioned, or the right to run for office," Mr Bopp said during his opening statement.
US District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday ruled that the challenge to Ms Greene's fitness for office can proceed.
Absentee ballots will start to be mailed on April 25.
- With Reuters