WASHINGTON -- One of Newt Gingrich's most high-profile backers in South Carolina is a former judge who has been put in an awkward position by the former House Speaker's controversial proposals to rein in the judicial branch. So far, he is staying silent on Gingrich's statements, even as several other prominent conservatives have voiced their disapproval.
Last Friday morning, Gingrich announced that prominent South Carolina attorney William "Billy" Wilkins and his wife, Debra, will serve as the campaign's state co-chairs, working to raise money and build support in the critical state.
Wilkins is the former chief judge of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and is currently a partner at the law firm Nexsen Pruet.
"It is an honor and privilege to serve, along with my wife, as State Chairs of the South Carolina effort. Under Newt's leadership as Speaker of the House the budget was balanced for the first time in a generation, welfare was reformed, and taxes were significantly cut," Wilkins said in a statement. "Newt Gingrich has experience, knowledge, and a strong work ethic -- just the kind of track record we need to reverse our stagnant economy and get America growing again."
The announcement came less than 24 hours after Gingrich's controversial proposals for the judicial branch were brought up during the Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa.
Gingrich argued that the judicial branch had become "grotesquely dictatorial" and that there was a "judicial dictatorship" terrorizing America.
He has aggressively gone after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- which is despised by conservatives for its perceived liberal bent -- and said that courts that are "anti-American" or "anti-religious" should be abolished. Gingrich would also like Congress to be able to subpoena judges, and he has even proposed using the Justice Department to arrest judges who issue decisions with which he disagrees.
These comments no doubt put Wilkins in a tough spot, torn between disagreeing with the candidate he's backing and endorsing positions that would weaken and politicize the branch of government to which he has dedicated his career. Wilkins did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Huffington Post.
Other conservatives, however, have been less shy about disagreeing with Gingrich's plan for the judicial system.
"It would lead us to become a banana republic, in which administrations would become regimes, and each regime would feel it perfectly appropriate to disregard decisions of courts staffed by previous regimes," said Michael Mukasey, who served as U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush. "That's not what we are."
Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge appointed by Bush, said Gingrich's ideas on the judiciary would be "scary" if implemented, but that he doubted they ever would be because they were so far-fetched.
The announcement of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins as co-chairs was was likely intended to counteract some of the punch that came from Mitt Romney picking up the backing of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), which was announced the same day.
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