CNN  — 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy theory-peddling Georgia Republican, shouldn’t be disqualified over her role in the January 6 insurrection, a judge said Friday in a significant legal blow to the voters and advocacy groups who tried to throw her off the ballot.

State Judge Charles Beaudrot said in a 19-page recommendation that even if it is assumed that the US Capitol riot was an insurrection, “challengers have produced insufficient evidence to show that Rep. Greene ‘engaged’ in that insurrection after she took the oath of office on January 3, 2021.”

The recommendation was submitted to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, who accepted the decision later on Friday night and formally ruled that Greene will stay on the ballot. The anti-Greene challengers said in a statement that they’ll appeal Raffensperger’s decision in state courts.

The Republican primary in Georgia is scheduled for May 24.

The judge concluded that there was “no persuasive evidence” that Greene had taken direct actions to help the insurrectionists – such as “physical efforts, contribution of personal services or capital, issuance of directives or marching orders, transmissions of intelligence, or even statements of encouragement.” Her militant rhetoric about the election wasn’t enough to link her to the attack.

“Her public statements and heated rhetoric may well have contributed to the environment that ultimately led to the Invasion,” Beaudrot concluded. “But expressing constitutionally-protected political views, no matter how aberrant they may be, prior to being sworn in as a Representative is not engaging in insurrection under the 14th Amendment” and therefore isn’t disqualifying.

This outcome is yet another setback in the liberal-backed efforts to hold Republican officials responsible for the Capitol riot. It also raises fresh questions about whether similar constitutional challenges will stand a chance against former President Donald Trump if he runs again in 2024.

“This decision betrays the fundamental purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause and gives a pass to political violence as a tool for disrupting and overturning free and fair elections,” Free Speech For People, a constitutional advocacy group that backed the challenge, said in a statement.

In an interview after the ruling was handed down, Greene’s lawyer, James Bopp Jr., told CNN that “this is a great day for the First Amendment and a great day for our democracy.”

“There’s a bevy of well-funded Democrat lawyers behind this political smear … they are trying to win elections by disqualifying members of Congress,” Bopp said.

High-stakes hearing

Beaudrot’s recommendation comes weeks after he presided over an unprecedented all-day disqualification hearing in Atlanta, where lawyers for the voters who challenged Greene’s candidacy tried to connect her and her militant rhetoric to the violent attack on the Capitol.

She testified for more than three hours at the hearing, becoming the first member of Congress to answer questions under oath about January 6. She denied knowing about plans for violence and repeatedly said she couldn’t remember key facts – like what she discussed with White House officials about the transfer of power, and with whom she spoke as January 6 approached.

One piece of evidence that stood out to the judge was an interview Greene gave to Newsmax the day before the attack, where she was asked what the plan was for the joint session of Congress where Biden’s victory would be certified. She said, “This is our 1776 moment,” and the challengers claimed it was a coded message intended to spur Trump supporters to violence.

Beaudrot, the judge, wrote that this was “the only conduct” by Greene that came close to triggering her disqualification, but “it is impossible for the Court to conclude from this vague, ambiguous statement that Rep. Greene was complicit in a months-long enterprise to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power without making an enormous unsubstantiated leap.”

Bopp, Greene’s lawyer, said Friday that the challengers’ views about the 1776 comments were a “ridiculous distortion of a simple statement” and praised the judge’s conclusion on the matter.

The judge acknowledged in his ruling that Greene had contacts with people who may have instigated violence – and she was questioned about these contacts under oath. But the judge ruled that “the evidence does not show that Rep. Greene was in contact with, directed, or assisted these individuals, or indeed anyone, in the planning or execution of the Invasion.”

Some of Greene’s testimony was undermined by recent revelations about Trump’s final chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Greene testified that she couldn’t recall if she advocated for Trump to impose martial law, but texts obtained by CNN show that Greene told Meadows on January 17, 2021, that he should raise the issue with Trump, even if she wasn’t sure if martial law was a good idea.

Similar constitutional challenges have fallen short, or are bogged down in the courts, against Republicans holding state and federal offices in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

This story has been updated with additional reaction and details.