All other political issues aside, Gingrich’s understanding of the judiciary’s role in the U.S. democracy is appalling. You don’t need to take Professor Varat’s federal courts class to know that there’s a problem with the president telling the Supreme Court justices to suck it when he doesn’t like one of their rulings.
But this basically is what Gingrich has said he will do starting on Day 1. Here is what he said Monday, via The Guardian:
The Republican contender told a forum of anti-abortion activists ahead of South Carolina’s primary election that as president he would ignore supreme court rulings he regards as legally flawed. He implied that would also extend to the 1973 decision, Roe vs Wade, legalising abortion.
“If the court makes a fundamentally wrong decision, the president can in fact ignore it,” said Gingrich to cheers.
This was far from the first time that Gingrich has demonstrated such contempt for the federal judiciary. Gingrich has rightly drawn a lot of criticism for these views. Michael Mukasey, who left the federal bench to serve as attorney general for George W. Bush, called Gingrich’s views “ridiculous” and “outrageous” and said that it would lead to a “banana republic.”
This issue is ripe with religion implications, and I’d like to add my two cents.
First, Gingrich’s understanding of whom gets to interpret the statutes and Constitution of the United States is fundamentally flawed. That is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department,” so it doesn’t matter of the president disagree, even on a fundamental level, with how a Supreme Court ruling.
Second, threatening to cast the country into a constitutional crisis when the president doesn’t get his way—the politician’s equivalent of taking his ball and going home—is hardly the type of leadership that I would expect from the leader of the most powerful country in the world.
If the issue is about checks and balances, then Gingrich just needs to recognize that the Constitution provides the president and Congress with recourse if they don’t like a Supreme Court opinion. If it’s the interpretation of a statute, Congress can pass a new law that gets around the Court’s interpretation or constitutional hang up; it can also abolish lower federal judgeships. If the president doesn’t like the tenor of the Court, he can appoint ideological fellow travelers to fill openings. And both Congress and the president can push the populace for a constitutional amendment that would override any opinion (for example, a constitutional amendment barring abortion).