Breaking the Rules to Destroy Our Courts
Remarks as prepared by former Vice President Al Gore
Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist # 78, wrote that the “independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill-humors which the arts of designing men… have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.”
When James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, he explained that “independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves… the guardians of [these] rights, … an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislature or executive.” …
[T]he Republican leader of the House of Representatives responded to rulings in the Terri Schiavo case, by saying ominously: “The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior.”
When the outrage following this comment worsened Rep. DeLay’s problems during the House Ethics scandal, he claimed that his words had been chosen badly, but in the next breath, he issued new threats against the same courts: “We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse.”
In previous remarks on the subject, DeLay has said, “Judges need to be intimidated,” adding that if they don’t behave, “we’re going to go after them in a big way.”
Moreover, a whole host of prominent Republicans have been making similar threats on a regular basis.
A Republican Congressman from Iowa added: “When their budget starts to dry up, we’ll get their attention. If we’re going to preserve the Constitution, we must get them in line.”
A Republican Senator from Texas directly connected the “spate of courthouse violence lately” to his view that unpopular decisions might be the explanation. “I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence.”
One of the best-known conservative political commentators has openly recommended that “liberals should be physically intimidated.”
The spokesman for the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said: “There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary.” Misunderstanding?
The Chief of Staff for another Republican senator called for “mass impeachment” by using the bizarre right-wing theory that the president can declare that any judge is no longer exhibiting “good behavior,” adding that, “then the judge’s term has simply come to an end. The President gives them a call and says: ‘Clean out your desk. The Capitol police will be in to help you find your way home.'”
The elected and appointed Republican officials who made these dangerous statements are reflecting an even more broadly-held belief system of grassroots extremist organizations that have made the destruction of judicial independence the centerpiece of their political agenda.
Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, who hosted a speech by the Senate Majority Leader last Sunday, has said, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to take a black robe off the bench.” Explaining that during his meeting with Republican leaders, the leaders discussed stripping funding from certain courts, Perkins said, “What they’re thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and recreating them the next day, but also de-funding them.” Congress could use its appropriations authority to just “take away the bench, all of its staff, and he’s just sitting out there with nothing to do.”
Another influential leader of one of these groups, James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, focused his anger on the 9th circuit court of appeals: “Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court. They don’t have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th circuit doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s gone.”
Edwin Vieira (at the “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith” conference) said his “bottom line” for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Stalin: “He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: ‘no man, no problem.'”
Through their words and threats, these Republicans are creating an atmosphere in which judges may well hesitate to exercise their independence for fear of Congressional retribution, or worse.
It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God’s will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against “people of faith.” How dare they?
Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forebears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls.
This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.
James Madison warned us in Federalist #10 that sometimes, “A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction.”