Newt Gingrich cannot help himself. At his core, he is basically a rogue elephant. Sooner or later he rampages through the underbrush crushing everything in sight—including the crops and edifices upon which his constituents depend. He proved this once more during the Fox News sponsored debate inIowa.
This time, Gingrich proposed neutering the federal courts. He recommended that the congress and/or the president dismantle some of these judiciaries. At the very least, he proposed that members of congress call the justices with whom they disagree before them so that they could bludgeon them into submission during open hearings.
Were this done, however, it would abolish the balance of power so carefully crafted by the founders. Two centuries of establishing the boundaries between what the president, congress, and the courts can do would be thrown out the window on the whim of a presidential campaign.
During the debate itself, Megyn Kelly noted that if a Republican congress could eliminate courts it did not like, so could a democratic congress once it took over. Far from de-politicizing the courts, Gingrich’s suggestion would open the doors to demagogic grandstanding of a magnitude never previously witnessed.
Kelly’s observation, however, went right over the heads of the Iowa audience, which loudly applauded Newt’s folly. These conservatives agreed that some court decisions are so outrageous they should be overturned. This apparently blinded them to the dangers of Newt’s solution.
A clue as to what could go wrong was buried in one of Gingrich’s own allusions. He proudly proclaimed that he was merely following in the footsteps of such illustrious presidents as Franklin Roosevelt.
Sadly, this was true. But as a historian Newt should have known that Roosevelt’s effort to “pack the Supreme Court” put his administration in jeopardy. Roosevelt, it may be remembered, was furious with the court for having ruled his National Recovery Administration (NRA) unconstitutional. He, therefore, wanted to increase the court’s membership to fifteen so that his appointees would do his bidding. So egregious was this power grab that even his own party objected.
Moreover, the court had been right. The NRA was a monstrosity. Among other things, it would have jailed small business people for the temerity of charging less for their products than the federal regulators would allow. This was clearly a case of political overreaching.
Yes, the courts can be wrong. But so can the president and congress. Castrating the courts will not solve this problem. What can correct it is a president who appoints the right sort of justices. This is what Newt should have recommended, but in his proclivity to be bold, he went too far.
This unfortunately is not an isolated example of his intemperance. It is, in fact, part of who he is.