Activist Gene Stilp sues to keep Rep. Scott Perry off the Pa. primary ballot

Perry’s role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election makes him ineligible to seek reelection, the suit claims

By: - January 2, 2024 5:14 pm

Rep. Scott Perry talking to reporters at the Capitol Sept. 19, 2023 (Jennifer Shutt/ States Newsroom)

Political activist Gene Stilp filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court on Tuesday seeking U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s disqualification from this year’s congressional primary ballot.

The suit against Perry (R-10th District) and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt alleges that Perry engaged in or supported an insurrection and is therefore ineligible to serve in Congress under the 14th Amendment.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars anyone who engages in an insurrection or rebellion after taking an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding federal or state office.

Stilp seeks a declaration from the Commonwealth Court that the 14th Amendment can be used to determine eligibility to appear on a primary ballot, that Schmidt must make a determination about Perry’s eligibility, that Perry engaged in insurrectionist activity and that the restrictions of the amendment should eliminate Perry from the ballot.

The suit also asks the court to declare that it is not necessary for a person to be convicted of a crime for the disqualification requirement to apply and that any evidence of criminal activity discovered in the course of the lawsuit be referred to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

Stilp’s effort to remove Perry from the primary ballot for his central Pennsylvania congressional district follows decisions by  two states to remove former President Donald Trump from their 2024 ballots for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Maine’s secretary of state and Colorado’s Supreme Court barred Trump from their ballots because of his actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Trump’s attorneys have said they will appeal those decisions.

Perry’s campaign spokesperson said Perry, who was traveling with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to the southern U.S. border, is focused on critical problems facing south central Pennsylvania and the nation.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit filed by a fringe activist whose claim to fame is an inflatable pink pig,” spokesperson Matt Beynon said, referring to the oversized inflatable swine Stilp has used to draw attention to government waste.

A spokesperson for the Department of State said Schmidt had no comment. 

It also came on the same day as Pennsylvania state Sen. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery) announced a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee against state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), alleging that Mastriano also played a role in the plot to overturn the election.

Haywood said the complaint is based on evidence gathered by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit government accountability group that also brought the Colorado lawsuit on behalf of voters there. He said the complaint is being filed now because it took time to assemble the evidence. Tuesday also happened to be Mastriano’s birthday.

“That is the amount of time it took to put the evidence together in a way that I felt comfortable advancing,” Haywood told reporters during a Capitol press conference.

The ethics committee reviews evidence and makes recommendations to the full GOP-controlled Senate. The possible outcomes include reprimand, censure or expulsion, Haywood said.

“I believe in the integrity of each of the senators that will be appointed to the committee, and given the allegations … I’m confident they will come up with a conclusion that is consistent with the facts,” Haywood said.

Mastriano said in a statement Tuesday that the suit would not “intimidate or silence” him and called it a ‘partisan PR stunt,” adding “I do not need a lecture on the U.S.  Constitution. I volunteered to defend it while serving our nation for over 30 years as an officer in the U.S. Army.”

Stilp’s complaint notes that Perry has taken oaths to support the U.S. Constitution each term that he has served in the House, as a U.S. Army officer and as a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature. 

Drawing on filings in Perry’s legal effort to keep messages seized by the FBI from his personal cell phone out of the hands of Special Counsel Jack Smith, Stilp’s suit asserts that Perry had a two-pronged role in the insurrection. 

First, he worked with Trump officials, attorneys and allies to build up false allegations of election fraud across the country, the suit argues. Second, Perry worked with the same group of associates to interfere with the certification of electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021, according to Stilp.

The suit cites an unsealed federal court opinion that disclosed the nature but not the specific contents of messages between Perry and Trump administration officials and attorneys, and Pennsylvania officials, including GOP members of the state House and Senate. 

(This article was updated at 8:44 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, to include a comment from Perry’s spokesperson. It was updated again at 10 p.m. to include comment from Sen. Mastriano)

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

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