The Republican candidates have made outrageous comments during the campaign, but none seems as dangerous as Newt Gingrich's statement that if he makes it to the White House he would essentially ignore Supreme Court rulings that may conflict with his views.
This is an outrageous suggestion made by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, considering that the Constitution establishes a political system with a division of power whereby each branch of government, as enumerated in the first three articles, has a specific function.
As any constitutional law student learns in his first-year class, the judicial branch, following French philosopher Montesquieu's ideas, reviews and rules on the constitutionality of laws approved by Congress. Therefore, it has the last word in terms of legislation.
The president, contrary to Gingrich's outrageous suggestions, cannot ignore legislation that has been approved by Congress and whose legality has been confirmed in court rulings. Unless, of course, the president chooses to act as a Banana Republic dictator and imposes his political agenda regardless of the views of other state institutions.
Newt Gingrich is not the first politician to try to neutralize the key institutional role of judicial courts in the American democracy. One of our most outstanding presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, proposed the reorganization of the Supreme Court in 1937. He wanted to increase the number of Justices in the highest court in the land.
What happened was that, in those difficult times of our history, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional several of his New Deal programs. If Roosevelt had packed the court with up to six loyalists, he would have been assured a court majority and the possibility of implementing the economic and social programs that he felt essential to get the country out of the Great Depression.
But public opinion and even members of his own party opposed FDR's proposal because they clearly understood the dangerous precedent that would have been created if the president had limited the powers of a crucial state institution due to contextual political necessity. At the end, the bill was not approved and Roosevelt gave up this misguided effort.
Obviously, Professor Gingrich did not satisfactorily review this part of our history because he seems inclined to repeat the same mistake. Or even worse, rather than try to pack the Supreme Court, he is talking of neutralizing its power by directly ignoring some of its rulings, starting impeachments, and closing courts that may be opposed to his political vision.
For all those that already know Newt, this is not a surprise. After all, we are talking of a Republican leader whose achievements include the irresponsible 1995 federal government shutdown, an extra-marital affair while at the same time supporting president Bill Clinton's impeachment after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a half a million dollar jewelry debt at Tiffany's, and the hypocrisy of charging $1.6 million for consulting services at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when these two agencies, as many of his Republican colleagues told him, were partly responsible for the collapse of the real estate market that led to the Great Recession.
In the last Gallup tracking poll, Newt Gingrich leads among Republican presidential candidates with 28% of the votes. If he finally prevails-- something doubtful--the Republican Party will have a candidate who supports limiting the power of the judicial branch and, therefore, proposes an authoritarian political system that has nothing to do with our current democratic institutions.