Can’t a brother talk about judges or the Supreme Court? Apparently not if he’s President of the United States.
President Barack Obama caused a firestorm last week when he said that he didn’t expect the Supreme Court to strike down the health care law because it “would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
With those words, Republicans went ballistic and accused Obama of trying to puff up his chest, flex his muscles, and menacingly stare down a defenseless Supreme Court. Obama’s remarks showed “a fundamental lack of respect for our system of checks and balances,” cried Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who once said that his top priority is to make sure Obama is a one-term president.
Obama was “threatening” and “trying to intimidate” the high court, said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
But the biggest complaint came from Jerry Smith, a conservative 5th Circuit Court judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He demanded, and received, from the Justice Department a letter clarifying the president’s remarks – sort of the judicial equivalent of demanding a copy of Obama’s birth certificate.
Attorney General Eric Holder complied and sent a letter last week to the Fifth Circuit Court affirming that “The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute.”
But Holder also reaffirmed Obama’s position by stating “While duly recognizing the courts’ authority to engage in judicial review, the Executive Branch has often urged courts to respect the legislative judgments of Congress.”
The Republican gripe-fest over Obama’s alleged thugary against conservative Chief Justice John Roberts’ Supreme Court is a more than ironic given the GOP’s attitudes and recent remarks about the federal courts and its judges.
Complaining about judges is on Page One of GOP campaign handbook. Candidates routinely rail against “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench.” But few have taken court-bashing to the nuclear level that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) has in his now mathematically hopeless quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Gingrich accused some judges of “imposing secularism” and argued that if a president and Congress don’t like a court decision they can simply ignore it. He doubled down on the argument by adding that offending judges should be ordered to testify before Congress about unpopular rulings. If a judge stiffs Capitol Hill? Send out the U.S. Marshalls to drag him or her in, Gingrich says.
“I was frankly just fed up with elitist judges imposing secularism on the country and fundamentally changing the American Constitution,” Gingrich told reporters last December before his campaign became punch lines for late night comedians. “It was clear to me that you have a judicial psychology run amok, and there has to be some method of brining back balance to the three branches (of government).”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), whose White House run is producing as many laugh lines as Gingrich’s, also routinely expresses contempt for judges and the judiciary.
Displeased with rulings on rulings on same-sex marriage and sodomy, Santorum says he wants to combat “judicial tyranny” that he believes “is a serious issue in this country.”
The Sweater Vested One hasn’t hid his disdain for the liberal Ninth Circuit Court, which ranges from Alaska to California to Arizona, and his desire to replace its judges with justices who rule the right (wing) way.
“Now maybe we can create a court that puts them in Guam or something like that so they can keep their life appointments, and appoint a whole bunch of new judges to different circuits,” he said while campaigning in New Hampshire in January.
But Santorum’s greatest judicial hit was a shot aimed at liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He told prospective voters in Georgia that Ginsberg “prefers the South African Constitution over the United States Constitution.”
No judicial bullying there. And, according to PolitiFact Georgia, not a scintilla of truth, either. Ginsberg, in an interview on Egyptian television, praised the U.S. Constitution, called South Africa’s “a really good piece of work,” and suggested that newly-democratic countries might want to look at newer constitutions as they craft their own.
She said she wouldn’t “look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012” because of its original exclusion of women, slaves, and Native Americans.