WASHINGTON — Picking up where he left off in last Thursday's Republican presidential debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Saturday continued to rail against the federal judicial system, accusing it of overstepping its constitutional role and arguing that the president and Congress can ignore court decisions.
In a conference call with reporters that sounded alternately like a campaign pitch and a law school lecture, Gingrich said, "The courts are too aggressive, and the courts have been trying to impose an elitist value system on a country that's inherently not elitist."
"The founding fathers were very distrustful of judges," Gingrich went on. "Saw them as an elite instrument of government designed to oppress the people. And, as a result, (they) consciously made the judicial branch the third branch and the weakest branch."
In order to restore balance between Congress, the White House, and the courts, Gingrich recommended ignoring rulings, impeaching judges, subpoenaing justices to have them explain their rulings and, as a last resort, abolishing the courts altogether.
Gingrich, whose lead heading into next month's Iowa caucuses has slipped recently, cited presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson as White House occupants who chose to ignore major court rulings.
Gingrich said part of his drive to curb judges stems from a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2002 that reciting the phrase, "One nation, under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance infringed on the separation of church and state.
"I was frankly just fed up with elitist judges imposing secularism on the country and fundamentally changing the American Constitution," Gingrich told reporters, adding that "it was clear to me that you have a judicial psychology run amok, and there has to be some method of bringing balance back to the three branches."
Gingrich reserved most of his ire for U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery, who issued a ruling last June that banned prayer at a high school graduation ceremony near San Antonio, Texas. The judge said that school district officials had to inform commencement speakers that they could talk about religion and their personal beliefs but they couldn't pray or call on the audience to pray.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Biery's ruling but the case still left Gingrich seething and contemplating changes to the judicial system that would "indicate to the judges that there are clearly powers that historically have been used that are totally outside any conversation."
"Take Judge Biery. It is easier and more practical simply to impeach him because it is a less radical step, but it's also useful for folks to understand that in fact in American history, in the period when you still had members of the Constitutional convention in the government, they, in fact, abolished courts."
Gingrich's approach to the judiciary has been dismissed by several liberal and conservative legal experts.
"I don't believe it makes a lot of sense to have Congress overseeing justices," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, adding that Congress has even "less credibility."
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