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.