Newt's War on the Courts

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Always one for nuanced understatement, Newt Gingrich says our federal courts have become “grotesquely dictatorial.”

Of course, the ideas man has ideas. As president, Gingrich says he’d seek to abolish some courts, like the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that issue rulings he doesn’t like. He’d direct Congress to add language to certain bills barring courts from reviewing their constitutionality, and if judges ignored that, he’d consider it grounds for their impeachment.

In some cases, when the ”safety” of Americans is at stake, he’d ignore Supreme Court rulings. Or he’d direct the executive branch to blunt their applicability. Judges who issue or join rulings that don’t fit Gingrich’s idea of the court’s proper role could be impeached or subpoenaed to appear before Congress.

And it’s the judges who are “grotesquely dictatorial.” Got it.

The Republican front-runner was having a ho-hum debate Thursday night in Sioux City, until he got a chance to smack around the courts. The crowd loved it. Asked about two former Bush attorneys general who call his ideas “dangerous” and “totally irresponsible,” Gingrich simply quoted an 1820 warning about judicial oligarchy from Thomas Jefferson — the GOP get-out-of-jail-free card.

Trusty rival Ron Paul, to his credit, called it nonsense, arguing that Gingrich’s war on courts would “open a can of worms,” which was a true example of understatement.

What’s really most surprising is that Gingrich, the world’s smartest conservative, is basically saying that conservative judicial arguments are so weak that they simply can’t prevail unless courts are stacked, erased, or judges are politically intimidated. He’s apparently joining the faculty at the Bob Vander Plaats School of Law, where pupils learn that the first step in winning any legal argument is carpet-bombing the judicial system into submission. And no civic institution is too important to be cynically trashed for short-term electoral gain.

Gingrich is relying on his version of Jeffersonian history to justify his crusade. If only the Ninth Circuit had $1.6 million laying around, they perhaps could have hired Gingrich as their own historian, just like Fannie and Freddie. Then he’d probably be quoting Alexander Hamilton’s view of the courts’ duty to review the actions of Congress and the executive.

I have no idea what Jefferson or Hamilton would think of Gingrich’s scheme, but I do know it sounds more like something you’d hear from a generalissimo in some third-world junta, not from a potential president of an exceptional nation.

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