Political Animal


December 18, 2011 12:45 PM Quote of the Day

By Steve Benen

At this week’s debate for Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich emphasized one of his favorite subjects: his disgust for the federal judiciary. The disgraced former House Speaker warned of “an uprising” against the courts, adding that he’s “prepared to take on the judiciary” unless federal courts start issuing rulings he agrees with. He went on to say he understands these issues “better than lawyers,” because he’s “a historian.”

Yesterday, Gingrich hosted a conference call with reporters and went even further, sketching out his vision for policymakers literally ignoring federal court rulings. Referencing Supreme Court findings on the handling of suspected terrorist detainees, for example, Gingrich said, “A commander in chief could simply issue instructions to ignore it, and say it’s null and void and I do not accept it because it infringes on my duties as commander in chief to protect the country.”

Gingrich went on to describe “the rule of two of three” — a made-up rule with no foundation in American law — in which two branches of government could out-vote the other one.

He wasn’t kidding, by the way.

This led CBS’s Bob Schieffer to ask Gingrich a good question on “Face the Nation” this morning.

SCHIEFFER: One of the things you say is that if you don’t like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a congressional hearing … how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?

GINGRICH: Sure. If you had to. Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. Marshal.

Just so we’re clear, this week, a leading presidential candidate articulated his belief that, if elected, he might (1) eliminate courts he doesn’t like; (2) ignore court rulings he doesn’t like; and (3) take judges into custody if he disapproves of their legal analyses.

I hope it’s unnecessary to note that Gingrich’s vision is stark raving mad.

I’ll just conclude with this observation: Newt Gingrich believes Barack Obama is a wild-eyed fanatic, guided by an extremist ideology, hell bent on overseeing a radical overhaul of the American system of government.

The irony is rich.

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.


Post a comment
  • Repack Rider on December 18, 2011 12:56 PM:

    The self-awareness is not strong in this one, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  • Sean Scallon on December 18, 2011 1:00 PM:

    I don't want to ever hearthe "Ron Paul is crazy" mantra in the face of what Gingrich just said. Even hardcore Rightists realize this is just plain nuts. Just imagine the outcry if FDR announced that if any judge ruled against the New Deal would be hauled in front of a Congressional committee. Or how about any judge who struck down a portion of Obamacare? Does Newt was he's talking about? No! He just thinks he's throwing out red meat. But as it turns out, it's pretty rancid.

  • Roddy McCorley on December 18, 2011 1:03 PM:

    We have a long and rich history of flaming assholes in this country. Of them, Newt is the flamingest and the assholest.

  • c u n d gulag on December 18, 2011 1:10 PM:


    Und everything alt ist Newt again!

    I know I just broke Godwin's Law, and I'm about to do it again - but this taking-away of the power of the courts is exactly what Hitler did!

    And Newt doesn't get irony.
    Conservatives never do.
    They all suffer from an irony deficiency.

  • Danp on December 18, 2011 1:11 PM:

    I don't want to ever hearthe "Ron Paul is crazy" mantra

    When it comes to batshit crazy, the Republican circus has a big tent. And Ron Paul is not just a warm up act. If we let polls decide the headline act, Gingrich and Paul both get prime slots.

  • Robert Waldmann on December 18, 2011 1:13 PM:

    what Reoacj, Sean and Roddy said. Nice thread here.

    With Rove, I am quite sure the irony is intentional (by provoking people to recrown him king of irony he gets attention which brings him business). Gingrich demonstrated (the day he became speaker -- literally) that he can't help himself when acting as an asshole is no longer useful.

    I just wish he had gotten the nomination in the bag before dialing the crazy up to 11.

  • Christopher on December 18, 2011 1:22 PM:

    This shows Newt wants to be not just president but Supreme Leader. Sidelining one of the two other branches of power is bad enough - but what other sweeping dictats would a president Gingrich implement? This political cartoon, Fancy Power Mr. Gingrich? has some amusing ones.

  • qwerty on December 18, 2011 1:32 PM:

    I guess it is reassuring that Gingrich would be OK with it if Obama decided to invoke his dictatorial powers and do any of those things.

  • emjayay on December 18, 2011 1:35 PM:

    And you thought Bush's (well, his reactionary lawyer appointees') Unitary Executive invention was a bit anti-Constitutional.

  • T2 on December 18, 2011 1:37 PM:

    Such is the state of our two party system. If one of the two get blinded by hate, it leads to problems. Now the leaders of that group actively talk of direct rejection of the very foundations the nation was built on......indeed some suggest secession. But instead of national outrage, these guys get applauded and the millions flow into their secret PACs. And the elected representatives of the other Party continue to give in " for the good of the country". Just like Al Gore did.

  • biggerbox on December 18, 2011 1:45 PM:

    So, let's see: a former legislator who was tossed out following a scandal goes off to lead an extremist movement that comes to power in a disputed election and then declares the ruling of the courts null and void, and puts judges on trial for their political beliefs.

    I used to think the GOP goal was to turn us into a banana republic, but now I'm thinking their model is more like Zimbabwe or Congo.

  • aggie bee on December 18, 2011 1:51 PM:

    Newt Gingrich would make the Friday Night Massacre look like Sweatin' to the Oldies 3.

  • c u n d gulag on December 18, 2011 1:51 PM:

    GREAT point!

    And I were an Obama speechwriter, I'd be SURE to include that in his next comments to the press, and especially, Republicans:

    "Here's what Newt said. Do you agree? And, if you do, then you certainly don't mind if I subpoena a few judges on the SCOTUS? Or send out some Marshalls. I'll be calling Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts in short order. Oh, and I'll have my staff take a look at the Cirquit Court Justices in short order."

    I wish I had Depends stock if that happened.

  • CDW on December 18, 2011 1:54 PM:

    How do you feel about gingrich, or any of the other cons who are also stark raving mad, getting into office with the just-passed detention bill to play with?

  • tomeck on December 18, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Doesn't this imply that the executive branch has the power to arrest presidential candidates who pose a threat?

  • rrk1 on December 18, 2011 1:55 PM:

    The irony is indeed rich. This is the best example yet of IOKIYAR. Were any Democratic president to even sneeze in the direction of ignoring a court decision, or advocating his right to do so, the self-righteous shock and horror on the right would go on for days Impeachment. Impeachment, would be the cry. But not if you're a Rethug.

    Of course in the Newt we have someone whose ego and self-regard are off the scale. He does see himself in Messianic guise, and the only possible person to save us from ourselves. Peggy Noonan, far from my favorite person, described the Newt as a "walking grenade with his finger on the trigger." She's got that right. He's a bomb thrower, and simply doesn't know when to shut up. However, it's better that he says all these idiotic fascist things out loud, that he obviously believes, now rather than pretending to be a "compassionate conservative" with (pseudo) intellectual airs.

    Paul Krugman quoted someone (I don't recall whom) who said of the Newt, "He's a stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like." Except after this bomb burst he's a smart man's idea of what a really stupid person sounds like.

  • T-Rex on December 18, 2011 2:23 PM:

    No, Newt isn't crazy, he's a perennial adolescent. I remember hearing various arguments along these lines many times in my college days. When a vote by the students on a matter of policy didn't go the way the editor of the campus "news" paper wanted it to, her editorial comment was that "this was one case in which democracy should just have been thrown out the window, and the student government should have done (xyz) by fiat." I'd like to think most people outgrow it, but I've heard the same in condo board meetings and faculty meetings in the years since.

  • Rich on December 18, 2011 2:24 PM:

    Where are all the pundits who were lauding him as an intellectual a few months ago.

  • Ron Byers on December 18, 2011 2:28 PM:

    Newt's comments are simply disqualifying. We can't elect a power crazed monster President.

  • Linda on December 18, 2011 2:28 PM:

    On GPS, Peggy Noonan just wondered about the "rough beast" she fears is now slouching toward Bethhlehem, loosed by the worldwide protests against the established order. Can she and her ilk possibly be unaware of the "rough beast", churning with resentment and convinced of its own victimization, that they have loosed on this country? Newt Gingrich and his followers are the completely predictable result of years of pandering to the least attractive elements of the American character by the Republican establishment. Let us all hope that our Republic can survive it.

  • Steve M. on December 18, 2011 2:32 PM:

    I am a proud liberal and often agree with the author; however, this post goes a bit too far. Gingrich does not say, as Benen implies, that it is up to one person to:

    "(1) eliminate courts he doesn’t like; (2) ignore court rulings he doesn’t like; and (3) take judges into custody if he disapproves of their legal analyses."

    He thinks two of the government branches would have to be in agreement against the third, as Benen notes. So, supposing Gingrich were POTUS, it would only be with the help of Congress that such events might occur.

    I don't know much about Constitutional law but I can't imagine there is anything there to support his arguments. But, for once, this argument is not about a grab for power. I think it's best understood as trying to democratize the judicial system, as he is claiming that the Courts should reflect the opinion of the majority of the people (by proxy of their elected representatitives. This is something people can have reasonable disagreements about. Judges are fallible and have disproportional power in comparison to average citizens. I am not advocating Gingrich's view, but I do shudder to think that it is possible for nine people with views similar to Clarence Thomas to be on the bench, and what terrible injustices might follow.

    Having minimally defended him, I have no doubt that Gingrich would completely flip flop in cases where the people disagree with his favored view (e.g. gay marriage).

  • Brian on December 18, 2011 2:38 PM:

    He went on to say he understands these issues “better than lawyers,” because he’s “a historian.”

    Maybe that's the problem. Remember, Newt's "expertise" as an historian comes from a Ph.D. from Tulane in modern European history and a dissertation on colonial rule in the Belgian Congo. So he thinks he's a colonial ruler, one who can overrule the petty little people who displease him simply because he is the imperial power who knows best.

    It's funny that Newt complained that Obama somehow had a "Kenyan anti-colonial" mindset, because Newt clearly has a "Belgian colonial" mindset of his own. We should start calling him King Leopold.

  • c u n d gulag on December 18, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Steve M,
    As usual, you bring an interesting point of view.

    One that I would agree with, except that I believe that if Newt had a majority Republican House and Senate, he would take on the courts with a vengeance.

    Most of those positions in the judiciary were made lifetime for a reason. Not to say that our FF were invulnerable, but if the courts would stick to established law, with precedent, as it was designed, and which for the most part is what we've had, then we will continue to have some stability.

    To change the courts to reflect the mood of the electorate, will bring about wild swings in yet another part of the government, leading to further lack of trust in it.

    If the courts stuck to what I said earlier, we'd have had no Bush v. Gore or Citizens United hearings, let alone decisions.

    The "activist judges" that the Republicans keep saying they're concerned about is a matter of projection. The courts are full of them, and they're not Liberal activist judges.

    Ever since the Warren Court, Conservatives have been determined to reverse the changes that that SCOTUS brought to America. And they can't stand those changes. And have set about stocking the courts with Conservative judges.

    To allow a President with a majority Congress to now pick and choose judges and courts to disassemble is a prescription for an even bigger disaster than that which we already have.

    It will take at least a generation, probably more, if ever, to flush out the judicial Quislings that Little Boots put on courts throughout the country.
    And this idea might appeal to me based on that. But not at the cost of giving Conservatives, who don't have any fear at taking advantages of situations to their fullest, and stocking EVERY court with sycophants, only to find Democrats, who, even if they can overcome voter suppression efforts, are nowhere near as ruthless when they are in charge.

    In all likelihood, the "American Experiment" as we once knew it, is well and truly screwed no matter what happens.
    I just don't see the reason to load the gun, hand it to them, and put their finger on the trigger for Republicans to pull.
    I'd sooner commit suicide.
    It's faster.
    And it will take away some of their satisfaction.

  • Ron Byers on December 18, 2011 3:17 PM:

    Steve M. I have to agree with you. You know nothing about Constitutional law and even less about the American experiment in Democracy.

    What Gingrich is proposing is simply radical beyond belief. I am sure of one thing, you wouldn't want to live in Gingrich's America. None of us would.

  • Flying Tiger Comics on December 18, 2011 3:54 PM:

    Both sides of the fake divide in "politics" are working for the same end- post-constitutional america.

  • jJM on December 18, 2011 3:55 PM:

    He's less a perennial adolescent, @T-Rex, than he is akin to a 3 year old, fantasizing about what he would do if he were president, and threatening a tantrum if he doesn't get his way.

    Remember the nursery rhyme, "If I were the president of these United States, I'd eat up all the candy and swing on all the gates."

    But the true gall of this guy is pretending -- as the GOP ALWAYS DOES -- that he knows and can speak for the American people, when all he and they mean by that is what the wealthy 1% wants... It's time for all Americans to get that through their skulls.

    As for @Steve M. The way things are now, the Congress CAN ALWAYS pass new legislation to counter what a court has decided: such is the proposed Constitutional Amendment to get rid of Citizens United.

    So if that's "all" Gingrich means, why the "I'm the sheriff in town" posturing about arresting judges? He's like Limbaugh, appealing to the drug addled and the petty criminals who think all judges should be strung up.

  • T2 on December 18, 2011 3:59 PM:

    All very good comments here today. Isnt it interesting how silent our Media is on the extremist comments coming out of the GOP today? One could almost think the Media Ownership is part of the plan. Hey, The Big Lie worked in the 1930's....

  • beep52 on December 18, 2011 4:34 PM:

    If your goal was to create a fascist state in America, what would you do differently than what the Republican party is doing now?

  • c4Logic on December 18, 2011 4:39 PM:

    Anyone who finds New Gingerich to be relevant on any level to any legitimate discussion of public policy is deluded to the point of insanity. Support for his candidacy is a touchstone for bat-shit crazy. You support him--then you need anti-psychotic meds.

  • Buffalo Harold on December 18, 2011 4:45 PM:

    When the white-coats arrive to take Newt to the asylum, they should also pick up Steve M. at the same time.

  • sick -n-effin-tired on December 18, 2011 4:52 PM:

    Going to sell a lot of books to the teabaggers and lunatic fringe . That's his plan doncha know. No money in that presnit stuff . Speaking fees and books, not actual work.

  • Joe Allen on December 18, 2011 6:05 PM:

    The Steven Benen brand of fearmongering never fails to delight the masses.

  • Neil B on December 18, 2011 6:26 PM:

    Nut Gingrinch is deranged and anti-American and what I see quoted is already bad enough, but did he also say "(1) eliminate courts he doesn't like;"? I thought it was ignore and/or harass the Judges, not eliminate "the court" itself, whatever that would mean (if more than just render it ineffectual.) Did he say even worse that what we heard here?

    Hey Joe Allen, your satirical troll shtick is supposed to be played by "Al." You are too banal, I want him back! BTW, it seems that the original behavior (accurately described and objectively absurd and against our principles) is what delights far too many of our de-based masses these days ...

    ``''! ninginal - god have mercy ....

  • Daniel Kim on December 18, 2011 7:39 PM:

    I know I ask this a lot, but I have to do it.

    What the hell? Is he an American?
    I mean, how did he avoid being indoctrinated in fundamental American values?

  • Karl in Minnesota on December 18, 2011 8:17 PM:

    In view of Newt's grandiose scheme to destroy the constitution, is may be petty to study the details. However and without surprise, he gets that wrong too. The US Marshall service is part of the judicial branch and the Capitol Police work for the Congress. The President is not lacking for firepower to enforce what he may constitutionally compel. He could not send either the Marshalls or the Capitol Police to do his dirty work. For the Trail of Tears, Jackson had to use the military carry out his expulsion directive because the Supreme Court had only the US Marshalls to enforce the court's decree prohibiting this against him.

  • Texas Aggie on December 18, 2011 8:31 PM:

    How about if one of the courts decides that Gingrich has defied the Constitution and therefore charges him with treason. Should they order the US Marshalls to bring Gingrich before the court to stand trial?

    captcha: prison, speaking of Gingrich

  • arkie on December 18, 2011 8:34 PM:

    And with the new detention powers granted to the President by Congress, all the President would have to do is declare that a judge is a terrorist supporter, have the FBI arrest him then turn him over to the military for indefinite detention.

    Imagine a case in which a judge ordered the release of a terrorist suspect on the grounds that the government had presented insufficient evidence to justified his arrest.

    Sound like a terrorist supporter to me.

    With this standard, after the Hamdi decision, Bush could have locked up every Supreme Court justice except Clarence Thomas.

  • bluestatedon on December 18, 2011 9:02 PM:

    "But, for once, this argument is not about a grab for power. I think it's best understood as trying to democratize the judicial system, as he is claiming that the Courts should reflect the opinion of the majority of the people (by proxy of their elected representatitives."

    With all due respect, you are incredibly naive if you truly believe what you wrote.

  • Joe Friday on December 18, 2011 9:52 PM:

    Just got around to watching the "debate" moderated by Christiane Amanpour on this mornings 'THIS WEEK'.

    Good grief, Paul Ryan is an even bigger blithering idiot than I had thought.

  • Gonzo on December 18, 2011 9:55 PM:

    As they say, it takes one to know one. Both sides are out to take over and suppress opposition, and willing to change their own ethics to the bizarre to achieve the goal.

  • Peter Pitchford on December 18, 2011 10:03 PM:

    Newt is not any more crazy than Mitt. Newt gets all zany for the same reason that Mitt lies - because that's where the votes are. Whether they really believe what they are saying is besides the point. They are going after the stupid and naive and America is mostly stupid and naive. So, in one sense, they are being smart to recognize that reality, and they are way ahead of Obama. Obama has only recently started talking to Republicans like they are idiots, but he has yet to realize that the Democrats are idiots too.

  • Richard on December 18, 2011 11:05 PM:

    Criminals dont like judges either. No one likes Judges that get in their way. Newt is another creep tha wants it his way only. If this was football..the refs would be his problem.

  • pj in jesusland on December 18, 2011 11:16 PM:

    Let's start keeping a list of all the things Newt doesn't understand:

    1. Balance of powers
    2. Due process
    3. The Constitution
    4. Keynsian Economics
    5. The Middle East
    6. Conflicts of interest
    7. Marriage

  • Dabodius on December 19, 2011 1:15 AM:

    Squeaker G. imagines that, as president, chief of the Executive, he could order a Congressional hearing? That would be "the rule of one of three,” or, in the end, after he had wrecked the Constitutional separation of powers and consolidated them all for himself, the rule of just one petulant putz of 312+ million citizens.

  • randalms on December 19, 2011 1:47 AM:

    I think a big part of the structure of the current republican campaign
    is that it is similar to the plot of the Producers. Somehow,
    a bunch of the Republican candidates have got it rigged so that they
    will get rich by campaigning and losing big. What could go wrong? Well
    the Repulican voters have gotten so crazy that they get excited about
    voting for the candidate
    equivalent of 'Springtime for Hitler'. When each of the
    'Springtime for Hitler' candidates starts getting bizzarely, unexpectedly
    popular they manically re-double their efforts to lose. This is what
    Gingrich was up to today - he was getting really scared he might acutally do
    well in the primaries, so he had to do something FAST- He cranked up the
    newtron-beams in his brain, crossed the streams, and wired up the results
    directly to his mouth on Face the Nation, where he claimed that the
    President had some Super Powers! that he could arrest judges, ignore
    the legal system, and melt the polar ice caps with his steely vision!
    Okay, this explains, Newt, Bachman, and Cain. Perry - I don't think he
    understands the plot of the Producers ( plot lines are too complicated for
    him) but he is just copying their strategy anyways, as that is something he
    does know how to do. Romney, well I cannot really explain him.

  • sherifffruitfly on December 19, 2011 3:07 AM:

    And "progressives" maintain with complete sincerity that OBAMA IS JUST LIKE REPUBLICANS.

    Just as stark raving mad.

  • bob h on December 19, 2011 7:17 AM:

    I think Gingrich, who got into this for grifting and ego-boosting, has been frightened by his rise in the polls, and now wants to throw it. This is deliberate.

  • chi res on December 19, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Has it occurred to anyone else that all federal laws are already approved by "two of three", passed by Congress and signed by the President?

    In a nutshell, Gingrich is proposing to overturn Marbury v. Madison, and completely throw out the practice of judicial review.

  • Stitch on December 19, 2011 11:02 AM:

    Oh, I think Newt might be on to something. Remember when activist judges actually turned over a Presidential election? And you wouldn't believe the bozo they put in! Whereas according to Newt, the sitting prez at the time (Bill Clinton) could've dealt with this by arresting the Supes.

  • Mary on December 19, 2011 11:02 AM:

    "And with the new detention powers granted to the President by Congress"
    The NDAA does not grant any new powers to the President. It coalesces powers that are already there. The Democrats modified the original language. It's dangerous, but not newly dangerous.

  • wbn on December 19, 2011 11:29 AM:

    I kind of think that Newton Leroy Gingrich doesn't really want to be president and he is saying this shit so that he can sell more books and speeches when this is over.

    If on the horrible chance he does become president and he tries this crap, how long will it take before the calls for impeachment (for just cause)?

  • Mike on December 19, 2011 3:23 PM:

    The irony of Gingrich's comment is that there is a perfectly constitutionally way for the "two-out-of-three" rule to work. Congress and the president can CHANGE THE LAW. By definition, a judges ruling must be based in law. If a court makes a ruling that the other two branches of government don't care for, Congress can pass a bill that changes the law and the president can sign it. No marshalls, no subpoenas, no hearings.


  • Steve M. on December 19, 2011 4:13 PM:

    Many commenters have said I am naive, ignorant, etc. Maybe so, but I'm also not guilty of ad hominem like so many others. Just because Gingrich appears to be a bad person in his personal life, and would be horrendous as POTUS, doesn't mean his argument says something that it doesn't. PERHAPS, if he were elected as POTUS he would make power grabs of this sort and PERHAPS, in the crazy imagined world where he won, he would go after the judiciary in the way he suggests he would. Still, the argument he in fact made can be considered independently of what he would, in this counterfactual scenario, do. His argument is not "I, as president, can arrest members of the court." It is that when one branch of government is not adequately representing the people it can perhaps be overruled by the other two branches, whomever happens to be in the relevant positions. I don't agree with him and I don't think he can find legal backing for his argument. But that's what it is.

    As I said, I don't think Gingrich would really stick to it, as a matter of contingent fact. It would require, as others pointed out, approving of Democrats doing the same sort of thing when in the majority. But there is a difference between correctly representing his statements on the one hand and partisan jujitsu, involving "REALLY" understanding what he's saying beyond the actual meaning of his words on the other. (Sometimes interpretation is called for (e.g. racial coding), but not in this case.)