Bill Targeting Ex-Trump Official’s House Run Becomes Law. But There’s A Major Catch

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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A Tennessee bill aimed at preventing former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus from running for Congress became law Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee returned SB 2616 to the General Assembly without his signature. However, the bill establishing a three-year residency requirement for candidates became law after the state’s April 7 filing deadline passed, ensuring that Ortagus will remain on the ballot. A legal challenge to the law is ongoing.

“The requirement does not apply retroactively to candidates who met the qualification deadline at noon on April 7,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s spokeswoman Julia Bruck said, according to the Associated Press.

Many observers viewed the law as explicitly targeting Ortagus, who moved to the Nashville area in 2021. One co-sponsor, state Sen. Frank Niceley, endorsed Ortagus’ primary opponent, and expressed dismay that former President Donald Trump “shipp[ed] somebody in and endors[ed].” (RELATED: Morgan Ortagus, A Former Trump Administration Official, Declares Run For House In Tennessee)

However, state Rep. Dave Wright, a co-sponsor of the legislation, previously told the Daily Caller that it is only intended to mirror a requirement for General Assembly members.

“Looking at the requirements for me to be a member of the Tennessee state House, the requirement is there that I live in the state for three years, and it seems like a legitimate requirement,” he said.

Lee disagrees with the aims of the legislation, spokeswoman Casey Black told the Daily Caller. However, with overwhelming support in both chambers, the legislature likely would have been able to override his veto.

“We feel the voters are best able to determine who should represent them in Congress,” she said.

A federal lawsuit challenging the legislation remains ongoing. Three residents of Tennessee’s Fifth District, where Ortagus is running to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, argue that it violates their constitutional rights to support the candidate of their choice. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that Congress and state legislatures may not impose requirements on federal candidates that go beyond those specified in the U.S. Constitution.

Ortagus is looking forward to continued campaigning, she told the Daily Caller.

“I’ve never run for public office before, and I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of support I’ve received from my fellow Tennesseans so far in our campaign. President Donald Trump entrusted me with his ‘complete and total’ endorsement to represent Middle Tennesseans in Congress, and I’m focused on earning the same trust from my fellow Tennesseans,” she said.