Rick Santorum and Rachel Maddow don’t agree on much, so when Santorum appeared on the liberal commentator’s MSNBC show Wednesday night, they disagreed sharply on the role of the Supreme Court.
Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Though he won the 2012 Iowa caucus, and became popular among staunch conservatives, he’s lagging in most polls and is no sure bet to qualify for the August 6 Republican debate.
He said he wasn’t too concerned.
“I just think what happens in July and August, it's like the Las Vegas ad. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in August, stays in August,” Santorum said. “I don’t think there really is going to be that much of an impact.”
The friendly but pointed conversation soon turned to the court, and its recent rulings affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry and other recent decisions.
“It’s not a superior branch of government. I mean, if the Congress comes back and says, you know, we disagree with you and were able to pass a law and get it signed by the president and say, courts, you’re wrong,” Santorum said.
MADDOW: You could not pass a law that could contradict the constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court.
SANTORUM: Why not? Why?
MADDOW: You can amend the Constitution.
MADDOW: They're ruling on the constitutionality of that law.
SANTORUM: What if they're doing it with an -- from an unconstitutional basis? I mean --
MADDOW: They decide what's constitutional. That’s how our government works.
SANTORUM: No, no, that's not necessarily true. The Congress has the right.
When I took my oath of office as a United States senator, what did I say? I would uphold the Constitution.
And my feeling is, and I think it’s clearly from our founding documents, that the Congress has a right to say what's constitutional. The president has a right to say what's constitutional. And that's part of the dynamic called checks and balances.
MADDOW: Yes. But -- I mean, you're fundamentally wrong on civics, right? If there is, if there is a question as to the constitutionality of a law, it gets adjudicated.
MADDOW: And the second syllable of that word means it get decided in the judiciary, the Supreme Court decides whether or not a law is constitutional. So, you could not now pass a law --
SANTORUM: But if they have --
MADDOW: -- that said we’re banning same sex marriage.
SANTORUM: I’ll give you an example. The partial birth abortion statute, which sort of has come to light because of the Planned Parenthood tape, which they obviously used partial birth abortion to deliver some of these babies. The Supreme Court said it was un --
MADDOW: The Planned Parenthood stuff is --
SANTORUM: The Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional. What did as a member of Congress is we passed a law outlawing partial-birth abortion again, and we said to the Supreme Court, you’re wrong. And we actually listed the reasons why we thought the court was wrong. We made a minor -- and I mean really minor change in the bill. Senate passed it. President Bush signed it and -- guess what? The Supreme Court reversed itself.
MADDOW: But you're not talking about changing the constitutional basis on which the Supreme Court decides something. The Supreme Court decides whether or not something is constitutional.
SANTORUM: The Congress could you say we disagree with that.
MADDOW: Yes. And you’ll -- and if you do it in a way that contradicts the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court wins on the issue of constitutionality.