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The Gingrich-Chavez approach to judicial independence

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says he would force federal judges to appear at Congressional hearings to defend decisions he doesn’t like.

In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” [Sunday], the Republican presidential candidate said that he would force judges to defend unpopular decisions before Congressional hearings.

Host Bob Schieffer asked Gingrich how he would enforce that. “Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?” he asked.

“If you had to,” the former Speaker said. “Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. marshal.”

In recent weeks, Gingrich has pressed hard on the issue of judicial overreach, arguing that liberal judges have usurped the power of Congress and the presidency in their decisions.

“We’ve had rulings that outlawed school prayer, we’ve had rulings that outlawed the cross, we’ve had rulings that outlawed the Ten Commandments,” the Georgia Republican said on “Face the Nation.” “We’ve had a steady secular drive to radicalize this country away from all of its core beliefs.”

Gingrich also said that as president, he would feel free to ignore Supreme Court decisions he believed undercut his powers as commander-in-chief.

“I’m fed up with elitist judges” who seek to impose their “radically un-American” views, Gingrich said Saturday during a conference call with reporters.
But the former House Speaker demurred when asked whether President Barack Obama could ignore a high court ruling next year if it declares that the new health-care law, with its mandate that all Americans have health insurance by 2014, is unconstitutional. Gingrich said presidents could ignore court rulings only in “extraordinary” situations.

Of course a President Gingrich (shudder) would get to decide which situations are “extraordinary.”

Gingrich also said that as president he might ignore a Supreme Court ruling if it held that gays and lesbians have the right to marry.

I’ve posted here previously about someone with a similar contempt for judicial independence and constitutional separation of powers– namely President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

In December 2009 Chavez’s regime arrested and imprisoned Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a tenured Venezuelan judge, after she ordered the release of a prisoner the government wanted to keep in jail.

Other judges have been dismissed for daring to rule against Chavez’s wishes.

I am sure many judges have got the message and have adjusted their rulings accordingly. Intimidating judges to prevent them from making “radical” or “elitist” decisions would, it seems, also become a regular feature of a Gingrich presidency.

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