2011-12-27 / Opinion

The Constitution according to Newt Gingrich


Newt Gingrich’s high-speed wobble toward the presidency slammed into the federal judiciary recently and went spinning crazily off in a dangerous, despotic direction. As president, Gingrich said, he would not feel bound by Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with. That is the position of a megalomaniacal leader of a banana republic, not a candidate voters should install as the head of a nation of laws as determined by the courts.

Speaking on “Face the Nation,” the former speaker called for the House to force judges to appear to account for objectionable opinions. Any who failed to respond to a subpoena mandating their attendance, he said, would be arrested and face potential impeachment. If necessary, Gingrich said, he would seek to remove from the bench any judge whose rulings he felt were “aggressively anti-American, aggressively anti-free speech and aggressively anti-religious,” and abolish whole courts if necessary.

Gingrich was not, as one might suspect, speaking on the fly. Attacking the courts is a fundamental component of his campaign, and his website carries a lengthy essay in which the former history professor makes his case for placing ultimate power over what is or is not constitutional in the hands of Congress and the president, rather than the Supreme Court.

Gingrich objects to decisions — including many made by high courts dominated by the appointees of Republican presidents — that conflict with the popular view that the United States is a Christian nation, that forbid prayer in public schools and permit abortion. He would, he says in his essay, “rein in federal judges whose rulings exhibit a disregard for the Constitution.” The Constitution as interpreted by Newt Gingrich, that is.

Most of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination are also running against “activist” judges and an “imperial court,” which is odd. The most activist decision in modern court history was the 5-4 vote by the court’s conservatives that stopped Florida’s vote count and gave the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.

Like Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum wants Congress to abolish courts and remove judges whose decisions contradict or countermand the will of Congress. Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to end the lifetime terms of judges, a change that would subject them to political pressure, leading to rulings based on popular pressure, not the proper interpretation of the law.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, though she holds a law degree, seems in need of a remedial civics lesson about the legal system. Recently, she said that the “people of Iowa are sick and tired of having judges tell them what their laws are,” which is precisely what judges do.

Gingrich’s demonization of the federal judiciary is being rejected by responsible members of his party. His ideas are, said Michael Mukasey, a U.S. attorney general in the Bush administration, “dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, offthe wall.”

Asked about Mukasey’s comments about his plan to end the Supreme Court’s supremacy, Gingrich shrugged them off, as he does with most criticisms. “As a historian, I may understand this better than lawyers,” he said, which is no doubt why he believes it his view of what’s constitutional and not the court’s that should prevail. He is wrong.

The Concord (N.H.) Monitor

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