Political Animal


December 16, 2011 10:00 AM ‘A can of worms’

By Steve Benen

On Fox News this morning, Steve Doocy, reflecting on Newt Gingrich’s remarks in last night’s debate, said the disgraced former House Speaker “was brilliant” when “talking about out-of-control judges and the courts.”

I saw the same comments. “Brilliant” wasn’t the adjective that came to mind.

Megyn Kelly noted in her question to Gingrich that he’s proposed congressional subpoenas for judges who issue rulings that Republicans don’t like, as well as judicial impeachments and the prospect of eliminating courts the right finds offensive. Kelly reminded Gingrich that two conservative former attorneys general have characterized his approach as “dangerous,” “outrageous,” and “totally irresponsible.” He responded:

“[T]he courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think, frankly, arrogant in their misreading of the American people. […]

“I taught a short course in this at the University of Georgia Law School. I testified in front of sitting Supreme Court justices at Georgetown Law School. And I warned them: You keep attacking the core base of American exceptionalism, and you are going to find an uprising against you which will rebalance the judiciary.”

Gingrich added he’s “prepared to take on the judiciary” unless federal courts started issuing rulings that he agreed with. He went on to say he understands these issues “better than lawyers,” because he’s “a historian.”

Let’s note a few relevant angles here. First, it’s time to stop characterizing positions such as these as “conservative.” Gingrich doesn’t want to conserve anything; he’s eyeing a radical revolution of the separation of powers and the American branches of government, stripping the judiciary of its power as an independent branch.

Second, Gingrich is a lousy historian. Real scholars tend to consider Gingrich’s crusade against the courts as a crackpot agenda.

And third, it was odd to see Ron Paul, of all people stand up last night as a voice of reason.

“Well, the Congress can get rid of these courts. If a judge misbehaves and is unethical and gets into trouble, the proper procedure is impeachment. But to subpoena judges before the Congress, I’d really question that. And if you get too careless about abolishing courts, that could open up a can of worms. Because there could be retaliation. So it should be a more serious — yes we get very frustrated with this, but the whole thing is, if you just say, ‘Well we’re going to — OK there are 10 courts, let’s get rid of three this year because they ruled a way we didn’t like.’

“That to me is, I think opening up a can of worms for us and it would lead to trouble. But I really, really question this idea that the Congress could subpoena judges and bring them before us. That’s a real affront to the separation of the powers.”

Yes, Ron Paul was the sensible one on the stage last night when it comes to the courts. Great.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Mudge on December 16, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Ron Paul has a sensible bone in his body. Just one, mind you.

  • ET on December 16, 2011 10:11 AM:

    What is sad is that it never seems to occur to Newtie that Democrats could do the exact same thing if they had the power. You give/get that power you best be prepared to have it turned against you.

  • Ron Byers on December 16, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Why do you find Paul's comment surprising. Courts are one of the basic governmental institutions that would survive in a Libertarian utopia.

  • walt on December 16, 2011 10:14 AM:

    It's odd to think conservatives haven't gotten the judicial prize of the century with corporate personhood. Essentially, it's a gilt-edged invitation to oligarchy. Yet Gingrich still pretends it's 1954 with Brown v Board of Education assaulting "our freedoms".

    I suspect for most low-information, morally-vacuous Republicans, this will be a moot point. Courts may be bad because they let ni**ers into the public square, but the greater issue now is that they can't simply steamroll liberals every chance they get. Otherwise, there is no point for our Constitutional "originalists". It's a talking point divorced from anything remotely actual, which as luck would have it, described just about everything inside the Republican tent.

  • John Dillinger on December 16, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Does anyone else find Gingrich's story about "testifying" before SCt Justices a little strange? I know G-town Law has active Supreme Court Institute, but the notion that any of the Justices would sit down and take testimony from this blowhard about "American exceptionalism" is a little hard to believe.

  • kevin on December 16, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Perhaps we are all missing the bigger picture. Newt is really running for King (or maybe Emperor), and he fully expects that once he is crowned, his will is the law of the land.

  • Montana on December 16, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Ron Paul's warning that they are waving the bloody shirt in Iran just like they had in Iraq was the comment that stuck with me. Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum's rebuttals did sound remarkably familiar.

    I know we should only comment on content, but Bachmann looked like she was wearing a mask last night. She already has that deer-in-the-headlights look about her. All that excess makeup really exaggerates that -- unless that's what republicans consider "feminine." (I noticed that the woman moderator at Fox sported a similar look.)

  • c u n d gulag on December 16, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Newt is 'an historian' in the same way that I'm Miss Universe.

    And as a 250 lb, over 6 foot, 50 year-old male - I ain't no Miss Universe.

    But, the rubes keep buying Newts BS!

    And it's not opening up a 'can of worms.'

    It's pulling the pin and sticking the grenade up your own ass!

    Newt's just another wannabe Dictator draped in the flag, and carrying the Bible.

  • Ron Byers on December 16, 2011 10:24 AM:

    What I find interesting is that Ron Paul is peaking just before Iowa. If he wins the nomination, we would have a very interesting discussion about the future of America with Obama forced into the role of defending the establishment. Even if he just places or shows in a few early primaries, the Republican establishment is going to be in the uncomfortable position of defending itself against an angry mob or Paulites.

    Frankly, Obama wins in a walk but a Paul nomination would require all of us to rethink things like Citizens United, the military and the American role as policeman to the world. Those are not bad things for us to rethink.

  • Ron Byers on December 16, 2011 10:30 AM:

    kevin, the Emperor is interesting. The historical character who always jumps to my mind when I think Gingrich is Napolean, except Gingrich doesn't have Napolean's skill as a cannoneer or as a general. He also doesn't have his good fortune. He certainly has the ego and arrogance.

  • Anonymous on December 16, 2011 10:38 AM:

    Gingrich has a few models in mind for his approach to the judiciary: Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, and more recently Iran. He is a religio-fascist: you can always tell what he supports by observing what he says he is most against. He and Sheriff "Joe" are the face of American fascism.

  • Trollop on December 16, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Newt will no doubt have his power seperated from him. Give him a couple more appearances and even his insane fan base will realize that he's 2 bucks short of a two dollar bill. This guy needs to exit stage right, really quickly.

    Sorry Newt, your 15 minutes have been over for a very long time. You are a blight, not a historian but simply rather hysterical.. When Ron Paul is the champion of reason we're all totatlly fucked.

  • tomb on December 16, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Yes, he is zany. We often share his frustration (but about different rulings); however I've never heard of anyone trying to get rid of the courts.

    Can you imagine the right wing outrage we would hear if Obama said something like this? Hooboy!

  • Texas Aggie on December 16, 2011 10:44 AM:

    The part of this monologue of Gingrich's that bothers me most is that he keeps referring to himself as an historian. He got a PhD in history from Tulane with a dissertation on the education in the Congo under the Belgians. He taught at a third rate college in western Georgia where he couldn't get tenure. After a couple years he even got transferred to teaching geography.

    Having a PhD in history doesn't make you an historian anymore than wearing boots makes you a cowboy. An historian is someone who knows and understands history, a qualification that Newt obviously has failed.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on December 16, 2011 10:47 AM:

    If not for his baggage, Newt would easily be running away with the 2012 GOP nomination. He's everything today's Republican is looking for.

    "[T]he courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think, frankly, arrogant in their misreading of the American people."

    I mean really. The base just eats this shit up, but, say it in a smug authoritative tone, spouting from the mouth of a pasty white male, and today's teahadist erupts into little multiple fits of orgasm. Absent the history professor's history, Newt's quick witted bombastic style coupled with his knowing every nativist button to press would be propelling him to an easy win.

  • KurtRexCooper on December 16, 2011 11:07 AM:

    (Nerdish) Gingrich keeps saying how he was influenced by Asimov's Foundation series and "psychohistoty" which could predict the course of civiluzations. He sees himself as Harry Seldon who invented the fictional field. But, Gingrich is less like Seldon, a "real" historian, & more like Asmov's character "The Mule" a dictator who was a force for destruction in the "Foundation" series.

  • chi res on December 16, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Of course he's "opening up a can of worms"! That's exactly the bait he needs to catch all those low-information "guppy" voters in Iowa.

    Also, "SQUIRREL!"

  • jjm on December 16, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Newt as Emperor, yes, but more like the mad king of Bavaria, or the mad Roi Christophe of Haiti.

    Really the man does have some sort of mental illness that licenses his mouth to spout utter fantasist nonsense and he casts the same spell over some people as the discourse of psychotics often does -- a little like the 'seriousness' with which people took the Unabomber's 'manifesto' as having real, critical content, when it was all his psychosis speaking.

    Has no one ever noticed that the GOP's assault on the courts in favor of unlimited policing is the same idea that dictators have always pushed--and the Mafia? They want to live in a lawless society, and/or to be able to break the laws with total impunity.

  • Robert Waldman on December 16, 2011 11:32 AM:

    The almost appealing thing about Gingrich is that, while he is willing to lie, he isn't disciplined enough to hide his radicalism. Consider "their misreading of the American people." As a third rate historian, Gingrich must know that courts are not supposed to read the people, but rather the Constitution, the laws and (for other than the Supreme Court) binding precedent

    Gingrich only cares about making money and winning elections and he can't pretend otherwise. The really dangerous enemies of the Constitution (such as George Bush Jr) pretend to support it until they are inaugurated. Gingrich is not anything like as slick sly and subtle as Bush. And he claims to be smart, no brilliant. Oh how I wish that all the enemies of the seperation of powers were equally moronic.

  • square1 on December 16, 2011 11:54 AM:

    When Obama signs the National Defense Authorization Act, he will do so knowing that Newt Gingrich will potentially inherit the dictatorial powers in the bill.

    There is no question that Gingrich's proposal to haul judges before Congress to explain their decisions would be a disastrous undermining of the principles of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances.

    But let's get real. The potential for this happening is beyond remote. Not only would most Republicans not go along, but the Supreme Court would inevitably hold that such subpoenas are not enforceable. What is Congress going to do then? Direct that federal judges be arrested and hauled to the Capital? It would trigger a Constitutional crisis unprecedented in U.S. history.

    Gingrich is just chucking red meat to the GOP base.

    Rather than focusing on imaginary threats that are extremely unlikely to ever materialize, why are we not asking why Democrats (along with Republican) are, as we speak, ratifying the Bush-Cheney's theory of the Unitary Executive and bypassing Posse Comitatus protections?

    Benen has been dead silent about the controversy surrounding the National Defense Authorization Act.

    As horrific as it is to imagine Gingrich exercising the powers, a small, small part of me would feel some Schadenfreude if, after assuming office, President Gingrich indefinitely detained President Obama after unilaterally determining that Obama's "Kenyan, anti-colonial sympathies constituted an attack on the core base of American exceptionalism sufficient to deem him to be a enemy combatant acting domestically pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act."

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on December 16, 2011 12:33 PM:

    John Dillinger: Does anyone else find Gingrich's story about "testifying" before SCt Justices a little strange? I know G-town Law has active Supreme Court Institute, but the notion that any of the Justices would sit down and take testimony from this blowhard about "American exceptionalism" is a little hard to believe.

    Hmm, perhaps it was a MOCK court demo...