Newt Gingrich’s assault on the courts: “zany” or brilliant?
posted at 12:03 pm on December 18, 2011 by Karl
Never one to be accused of timidity, Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich is turning up the volume of his ongoing assault on “activist judges” so high that even conservatives say he is going too far.
In a half-hour phone call with reporters Saturday, Gingrich said that, as president, he would abolish whole courts to be rid of judges whose decisions he feels are out of step with the country.
The former House speaker has been emboldened by his reception on the campaign trial, where conservative voters have cheered his view that judges who have ruled in favor of gay marriage or against prayer in school are “activists” who should be thrown out. In particular, Gingrich has criticized the US. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, on the West Coast, as well as U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of Texas, who ruled this year that a public school district in Texas could not, among other things, use the words “prayer,” “amen,” “invocation” or “benediction” during a graduation ceremony.
While “zany” and “brilliant” are perhaps too stark as adjectives here, there are certainly measures of silly and clever at work here. The proposal is silly not only because of the constitutional concerns raised even by conservatives, but also because the proposal would be impractical, even with a friendlier Congress than a President Gingrich would be likely to have. It is classic Newt, spitballing “outside the box,” with little regard to the political realities. John Gizzi (White House Correspondent & Political Editor for Human Events) points out the plan resembles that of that of fictional Confederate Pres. Jake Featherston abolishing the Supreme Court in The Victorious Opposition, noting that Harry Turtledove, who wrote Victorious Opposition and created a series about the Confederate States of America existing beside the USA from 1865-1944, is a Newt favorite. Odds that the left would eventually seize on this similarity, even if coincidental, to paint Gingrich as a crypto-Confederate and discredit federalism further approach 100%.
On the clever side of the ledger, if Newt is truly serious in these attacks — and Newt’s commitment to various ideas can be as fleeting as his commitment to, well, you know — perhaps he expects them to fail, while pushing the courts in a more conservative direction. This was the perceived result of FDR’s court-packing plan. But Newt’s current focus on the issue has an element of the opportunistic. He appears to be fading in the polls, and may be sliding to third in Iowa. Attacking judicial activism is usually a solid way to appeal to conservatives, particulalrly the social conservatives Newt would like to unite if he is to win in Iowa. It’s also a subtle way of reminding them he poured $150,000 into the successful 2010 campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court judges after the state’s high court struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage.