Campaign 2012: Gingrich expands call to reel in federal courts

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SPENCER, Iowa — Expanding on his call for a rollback of the federal courts, Newt Gingrich said Saturday the time has come for a national conversation on the courts’ overreach and the roles the president and Congress have historically had to reel them in.

The Republican presidential candidate said it’s only recently that the courts have become untouchable institutions, and said it’s time to return to the days when presidents such as Lincoln and Jackson felt able to ignore major court rulings, or when Jefferson pushed and won an abolishment of entire judgeships in 1802.

“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,” Mr. Gingrich told reporters.

Among the tools he said are acceptable would be ignoring rulings, impeaching judges or abolishing courts — though he called that final option the last resort.

The former House speaker has been developing the idea for years, but it burst onto the national stage Thursday when during a GOP presidential debate he defended the idea of abolishing federal courts the country deems too out-of-touch with American values.

The idea has been criticized by lawyers who say it would upend the current understanding of the system, which seems to give the Supreme Court the final say in major constitutional matters.

But Mr. Gingrich said that is an “absurd” construction that would mean one justice in a 5-4 ruling would determine the fate of major constitutional questions.

With the sense of history that only a former professor could bring, Mr. Gingrich said the modern-day understanding of the constitutional order between courts, the executive and the legislature is not what the framers of the Constitution intended.

He pointed to the writings of Hamilton and Madison and the actions of Jefferson as evidence that the founders distrusted courts, and he said anger at the British courts it was the second-most cited reason for the American revolution, behind taxation without representation.

He proposed an informal two-out-of-three system he said could govern — so that if a court made an extreme ruling and the president wanted to ignore it, he would have to have the support of Congress as well. And he said there are tools Congress could use to force the president to enforce judicial decisions if they wanted, including the power of the purse.

“A president who unwisely rejected the court and had a Congress that thought it unwise — Congress could cut off all funding, just refuse to pass the money,” he said.

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