Newt Gingrich

Revisionist History & 'The Food Stamp President': Celebrating MLK Day with the GOP Candidates

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The GOP presidential candidates had every right to hold a debate in South Carolina on Martin Luther King Day, Jr. Day this week, but maybe, out of a sense of self-preservation, they should have thought twice about the timing. What could have been an opportunity for the candidates to express their support for the myriad advances of the Civil Rights movement and to address the real challenges that remain instead turned into a mess of racially-charged attacks on African Americans, immigrants and the poor.

he fact that the disgraceful show took place on a day dedicated to celebrating the Civil Rights movement threw into sharp relief the narrow cultural corner into which the GOP has painted itself.

The trouble for the GOP's civil rights celebrations started early in the day. Mitt Romney spent the day campaigning in South Carolina with Kris Kobach , the prominent anti-immigrant activist who, after a stint at a nativist hate group, so-called "FAIR", helped write draconian anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama. Romney has praised Kobach's record, calling him "a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country." (Romney's choice of company should perhaps come as no surprise. Another prominent endorser who now heads the candidate's legal policy team, former Judge Robert Bork, has said the Civil Rights Act was built on "a principle of unsurpassed ugliness.")

Meanwhile, the leaders of the South Carolina GOP, including Gov. Nikki Haley, had lunch with right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton , who "led the crowd through a timeline demonstrating the role Democrats of the day played in perpetuating the existence of slavery in the United States." Telling a selective history of American racism is something of a specialty for Barton, a former Texas GOP operative. In his video "Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White," Barton attempts to tie the modern Democratic party to slavery, lynching and the Ku Klux Klan - while conveniently ignoring the GOP's "southern strategy" and the party realignment spurred by the Civil Rights movement, which led to many of the Democrats that he referred to becoming Republican. One can only imagine the dubious history lesson the governor and her allies were treated to before moving on to watch the night's debate.

But the GOP's offensive daytime holiday activities could not match the evening's event. Texas Gov. Rick Perry started things off by dusting off the racially charged rhetoric of the segregated south to attack the Voting Rights Act . Under the act, the Justice Department has the power to review voting law changes in states with a history of disenfranchising minorities. Perry called the DOJ's review of Texas' voter ID law an "assault" and said the rejection of a similar law in South Carolina, the home of Fort Sumter, had led the state to be "at war with the federal government." He was met with loud cheers from the audience and a big smile from Gov. Haley.

Never to be outdone, former House speaker Newt Gingrich stepped up the attack on African Americans. Asked by moderator Juan Williams about his previous dubbing of President Obama as the "food stamp president" and his insistence that he would "talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich dug in his heels , to the delight of the audience. "Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?" asked Williams. "No, I don't see that," Gingrich replied, to roaring applause, before repeating his call for low-income children to be put to work as janitors in their schools.

And those were just the lowlights. Romney, in response to a trick question from Rick Santorum, declared his opposition to extending voting rights to convicted felons, an issue that disproportionately affects the African American community. Later, he repeated his promise to veto the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to build meaningful lives in the United States.

I can't presume to know what Dr. King would think of the way the GOP presidential candidates celebrated his birthday, but I can't imagine he would have enjoyed the party. Almost fifty years after the March on Washington, the leaders of a major political party are trying to curb voting rights, drinking in revisionist American history, and shamelessly exploiting racial tensions for political gain.

Martin Luther King Day isn't just a celebration of the great strides made by a previous generation -- it's a call to action for those who want to preserve and protect the values that Dr. King preached. The spectacle in South Carolina was a powerful reminder that despite how far we have come, we have a long way to go to realize Dr. King's dream.

PFAW

Gingrich Shreds the Constitution a Little Bit More

Newt Gingrich put in a remarkable appearance on Face the Nation this weekend. In an interview with Bob Schieffer, the candidate extrapolated on his plan to scrap the constitutional separation of powers in favor of a state where federal judges are routinely intimidated and ignored by Congress and the president.

To summarize, Gingrich’s plan is to allow Congress to order U.S. Marshals to drag judges whose opinions they disagree with before them, and to allow the president to simply ignore court rulings he disagrees with. Here’s a key exchange:

Schieffer: Alright here's another one, this is now. Next year the Supreme Court is going to take up Obama's healthcare proposal. What if they throw it out? Can President Obama then say I'm sorry boys, I'm just going to go ahead and implement it. Could he do that?

Gingrich: The key question is, what would the congress then do? Because there are three branches...

Schieffer: But could he do that?

Gingrich: He could try to do that. And the congress would then cut him off. Here's the key -- it's always two out of three. If the president and the congress say the court is wrong, in the end the court would lose. If the congress and the court say the president is wrong, in the end the president would lose. And if the president and the court agreed, the congress loses. The founding fathers designed the constitution very specifically in a Montesquieu spirit of the laws to have a balance of power not to have a dictatorship by any one of the three branches.

Of course, Republican attorneys general took the Affordable Care Act to the courts precisely because Congress and the president had agreed on it, and the courts were their last resort in the effort to stop the law from taking full effect. That’s how the system is supposed to work. But instead, what Gingrich is advocating is what Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic calls the “Rock, Paper, Scissors Constitution” – where, instead of the careful checks and balances envisioned by the founders, you have a system where two branches of government can always team up to crush the third. The courts have always been an important check on the power of the majority. Gingrich, it seems, couldn’t care less.

People For the American Way senior fellow Jamie Raskin has a new piece in the Huffington post discussing Gingrich’s deeply troubling plans for the judicial branch, and why Mitt Romney may not be much better for the courts. You can read it here.
 

PFAW

Whose Opinion of the Courts Matters to the GOP?

During last night's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich perhaps unintentionally but perfectly encapsulated his party's distorted vision of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional structure. It came when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked the candidates whether Congress should eliminate courts that issue decisions it does not approve or. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a key part of the exchange went as follows:

GINGRICH: Sure. I'd ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges? Eighteen out of 35 were abolished.

KELLY: Something that was highly criticized.

GINGRICH: Not by anybody in power in 1802. [emphasis added]

Putting aside the question of historical accuracy, note that Gingrich did not say "not by anyone in 1802." He was careful to limit the people whose criticism he deemed relevant to those who were in power in 1802.

One reason we have courts is to prevent those in power from using their official authority to harm those out of power – the tyranny of the majority. If the majority uses their control of government to pass laws harmful to minorities, you don't expect them to criticize their own actions. The criticism would come from those out of power who are their victims – the same people who courts are intended to protect.

That no other candidate found Gingrich's limited framing objectionable says volumes about their dangerously distorted vision of the role of courts in our society.

PFAW

Supreme Court Becoming a Prominent Campaign Issue for 2012

The choice of a Supreme Court nominee is one of a president's most important roles, one that has an impact on every American for decades. When Americans vote for president, they are also voting for what the Supreme Court will look like. While that has always been the case, several high-profile cases are making unlikely that anyone will overlook the importance of the Court when they cast their vote in 2012. In recent days, the Court announced that it would hear cases on:

  • the constitutionality of healthcare reform (a case that sets a fundamental challenge to congressional authority to address national problems);
  • Arizona's anti-immigrant bill, which would expose the state’s Latinos to harassment and intimidation regardless of immigration status; and
  • a Texas GOP redistricting scheme that doesn't reflect the substantial growth in the Hispanic population and which the Justice Department says was "adopted with discriminatory purpose."

As a result, a number of press outlets are out with stories on the Court and the election. The Washington Post's The Fix blog has a headline proclaiming "Supreme Court inserts itself into 2012 election in a major way." Politico reports:

Together, the cases will help shape the national political debate as well as the direction of policy on one of the most contentious issues of the election: the power of the federal government. On immigration, the justices will decide whether the federal government has the right to block state efforts to enforce immigration laws. On health care, the high court will wrestle with the question of whether the national government can require individuals to purchase health insurance.

...

While the political impact of the high court's entrance into these pivotal cases won't be clear until the justices rule, some analysts believe Obama would benefit from a decision on his health care law, regardless of the outcome.

"If the court does the unlikely and strikes the law down, he could try to run against the court. And if they uphold it, it takes some of the other side's rhetoric away" by undercutting arguments that the law is unconstitutional, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Immigration is harder to figure," he added.

Politico also quotes a number of legal and political experts and activists discussing the importance of the Court in 2012:

Thomas J. Whalen, Professor of Social Science, Boston University: [The Supreme Court] is one of President Obama's best political trump cards heading into his reelection campaign. He can reasonably argue to independents that although they're not crazy about how he's handled the economy, they'd be even more upset with a staunchly conservative Supreme Court intent on overturning almost a century of social and political reform dating back to the New Deal. ...

and

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way: The current Supreme Court, the most conservative in decades, has repeatedly gone out of its way to rule against individual Americans and in favor of powerful corporations, and yet is still little discussed in presidential politics. I hope that the legal battles over Arizona's immigration law and health care reform will focus wider attention on the true importance of the Court in all of our lives.

As Newt Gingrich concocts radical plans to undermine judicial independence and Mitt Romney hires extremist Robert Bork as his legal adviser, the importance of Supreme Court nominations is a conversation that all Americans need to have.

SCOTUSBlog has a good round-up of coverage:

"Yesterday the Court (with Justice Kagan recused) granted cert. in Arizona v. United States, in which the state has asked it to overturn the lower courts' decisions blocking enforcement of four provisions of its controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070 . . . several journalists – including Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, and Nina Totenberg of NPR — focused on the case's potential effect on the upcoming presidential election, particularly when combined with the Court's expected rulings on the health care and Texas redistricting cases."

It is hardly news that the Supreme Court is one of the most important issues in any presidential election. George Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito have led to a number of 5-4 decision finding novel ways to prevent individual Americans from exercising their legal rights when they have been wronged by powerful corporations. People's ability to pursue the legal remedies written against employment discrimination, consumer scams, and misleadingly labeled prescription drugs have all been severely undermined by an arch-conservative Supreme Court.

There's no doubt that the Supreme Court is a critical presidential campaign issue.

PFAW

Rick Perry: Don’t Use the Constitution to Interpret the Constitution

Researchers at People For’s Right Wing Watch were watching Mike Huckabee’s presidential candidate forum on Saturday, and picked out this interesting exchange:

First, Perry presents his plan to impose term limits on Supreme Court justices – which he correctly points out would require a constitutional amendment. Then he explains why he wants to do this: because the Supreme Court (which happens to be the most conservative in decades) keeps on making decisions he finds “offensive.”

Perry’s advice to the Justices who keep on offending him: “Don’t use any of these different clauses, whether it’s the Commerce Clause or any of the other clauses to try to try to change what our founding fathers were telling us.”

The Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to tackle economic issues that affect the entire country, is at the center of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. It has also played a major role in the formation of the country: according to a report by PFAW Foundation, the clause has been "the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”

Of course, there can be many different interpretations of the Constitution – that’s what makes so-called “originalism” more opinion than science – but Perry’s doing more than offering a differening interpretation. He’s outright telling us that he wants to ignore the parts of the Constitution that he doesn’t like. In other words, he doesn’t want judges to use the Constitution to interpret the Constitution.

Perry’s latest Constitutional law lecture places him solidly in the company of fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, who has said he’ll urge Congress to subpoena judges who make decisions he doesn’t like and encourage his administration to flatly ignore unpalatable court rulings.
 

PFAW