Judicial Independence

Happy Birthday, Phyllis Schlafly!

Today is the 92nd birthday of Phyllis Schlafly, the godmother of the right-wing movement in America. Schlafly broke onto the national scene with “A Choice Not an Echo,” her 1964 book making the case for Barry Goldwater, and she solidified her leadership with her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. Decades later, she helped rally right-wing opposition to President Obama, hosting a “How To Take Back America” conference during his first year in office. She’s still hard at work, leading Eagle Forum and publishing her Phyllis Schlafly Report newsletter, whose June issue argued for putting Trump’s wall—“and yes, Mexico will pay”—in this year’s Republican platform. Mission accomplished.

It hasn’t been the happiest year for Schlafly, who has been embroiled in a power struggle with a group of Eagle Forum board members, including her own daughter. She also lost a trademark lawsuit against her nephew, who makes Schlafly beer.

On the other hand, Schlafly was an early and ardent backer of Donald Trump, standing up for him in the primaries against many of her Religious Right allies and Eagle Forum colleagues. At this year’s Republican National Convention, Schlafly hosted a “Life of the Party” event celebrating that the GOP has been officially anti-abortion since 1976; she told attendees that she endorsed Trump after he pledged loyalty to a pro-life platform. Party attendees were given copies of the most recent of her more than two dozen books, “How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life.” It’s a short paperback that feels as if it was thrown together after having Schlafly tell war stories about her GOP platform battles over the years.

Schlafly spends most of the book recounting stories of pro-life activists’ efforts to strengthen and protect anti-abortion language at every Republican convention since 1976. It includes the successful resistance led by Schlafly, Ralph Reed, Bay Buchanan and Gary Bauer to Bob Dole’s efforts to soften the anti-abortion language in 1996. (I was in San Diego with a People For the American Way team covering that convention; Reed was gleeful about demonstrating his power to humiliate Dole, which may well have contributed to his November defeat.)

After the quick march through convention history, Schlafly moves into a denunciation of “judicial supremacy,” calling on Republicans to repudiate the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. She also calls for nullification of 2015’s marriage equality ruling:

When supremacist judges presume to rewrite portions of our law, most especially if it is a law that we have had for millennia such as our law defining marriage, it’s time for the American people to speak up and say “No” just as Abe Lincoln did when supremacist judges ruled that blacks could be considered another man’s “property.” … All Americans must use every tool in the political process to reject judicial supremacy and return to government by “we the people.”

The book includes a short afterword by Kristan Hawkins, presidents of Students for Life, who calls Schlafly “a great American hero” and celebrates that, thanks to Schlafly and “her army,” there is today “no national Republican candidate who dares be anything other than pro-life!” The final 70 pages of the book, more than half its total length, is devoted to an appendix of anti-abortion and anti-marriage-equality references in Republican platforms and resolutions and excerpts from the 2012 platform.

Earlier this year, Schlafly urged Republican senators to hold firm in refusing to consider a Supreme Court nominee “until we have a Republican who will appoint somebody of the nature of Scalia,” telling her interviewer that the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency made her “scared to death.” Republican senators have done as she asked, and Schlafly got her wish in Cleveland with a solidly right-wing platform and the nomination of Donald Trump. But given what current polls suggest that November will bring, she may want to do her celebrating now.

 

Why Newt Gingrich is Christian Nationalists’ Dream Veep

Christian-nation extremist and political operative David Lane declared in TIME this week that Newt Gingrich would be Donald Trump’s “Dream Veep,” calling Gingrich “Churchillian” and “still the most feared Republican in America.”

It might seem strange that Christian Right figures would rally around Gingrich, the thrice-married former speaker of the House who abandoned that office nearly two decades ago after an ethics scandal and clear signs that his colleagues were about to drive him from the office. But here’s why: Gingrich has spent the past decade promoting the Christian Right’s revisionist history, beliefs about a divinely inspired American exceptionalism, anti-Obama conspiracy theories and diatribes about the supposed war on Christianity in the U.S.

For example, Gingrich and his current wife Callista, a former Hill staffer with whom he conducted an affair while married to his second wife, published an op-ed in The Washington Times in May ranting that the “secular left” is engaging in a “crusade against the role of faith in our society.”

Newt and Callista have, following in the footsteps of GOP operative David Barton, made a cottage industry out of pushing similar claims. It is certainly no coincidence that an updated third edition of the couple’s 2006 book, “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future,” has just been published.

The preface to the new edition warns that “the secular Left’s effort to drive God out of America’s public square” has “only gotten worse” since the book’s original publication. And in another sign of Gingrich embracing the extreme views of Christian right leaders and their political allies, the book echoes right-wing leaders’ rhetorical attacks on the federal courts, which Mike Huckabee made a central theme of his candidacy:

For two generations we have passively accepted the judiciary’s assault on the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is time to insist on judges who understand that throughout our history – and continuing to this day – Americans believe that their fundamental rights come from God and are therefore unalienable….

…Judicial supremacy...only survives due to the passivity of the executive and legislative branches, which have refused to use their respective powers to correct the Court…

If we are to truly secure our religious liberty in America, the people and their elected representatives will need to reject the theory of judicial supremacy and passivity as a response to Supreme Court rulings that ignore executive and legislative concerns and which seek to institute policy changes that constitutionally rest with Congress.

And just to make it clear, Gingrich believes a president who isn’t afraid to act can lead Congress in nullifying decisions, such as the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, that he disagrees with:

A president who believes that judicial supremacy is a threat to our freedoms will use any appropriate executive branch powers, by itself and acting in coordination with the legislative branch, to check and balance any Supreme Court decision he or she believes to be fundamentally unconstitutional.

For the past decade, “Rediscovering God in America” has become a major brand for Gingrich, Inc. It’s incorporated into the title of a second Newt-Callista book about the role of God from America’s colonial era through the civil war, and it’s in the title of not one but two Citizens United-produced “documentaries” based on the Gingrich books, a God TV special, and conferences featuring the likes of David Barton and dominionist “apostle” Lou Engle. In 2009, Right Wing Watch reported on one of the conferences and produced a highlight reel, which includes Engle praying that God will protect Gingrich from “the evil schemes of the enemy.”

But Gingrich has been doing more to win Religious Right loyalty than writing books and giving speeches. In 2008, he started an organization called Renewing American Leadership, which launched a project called Pray and ACT. Among the dominionist figures involved in the effort were Lou Engle and Lance Wallnau, who has been saying for months that Donald Trump is anointed by God.

Renewing American Leadership won fans among anti-gay activists when it poured $150,000 into the successful 2010 campaign to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. Christian nationalist “historian” and GOP operative David Barton was a founding board member of Renewing American Leadership; anti-gay activist Jim Garlow was brought on as president after he made a national name for himself organizing California churches in favor of California’s Prop 8. Gingrich, Garlow and Barton hosted a conference call for pastors gloating about their 2010 victories. In it, Gingrich said that “taking on the judicial class” and telling judges that “we are not going to tolerate enforced secularization of our country” is “one of the most important things we can engage in.”

Gingrich has stuck with his attacks on secularism. In 2011, he spoke at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church and declared that he was "convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

Gingrich’s personal re-branding as a conservative Christian culture warrior explains why some of the same Religious Right figures who are backing Trump are pushing Newt for VP.

When Gingrich was campaigning for the 2012 presidential nomination, Jerry Falwell Jr. was among those who rallied to the former speaker’s side when other religious conservatives questioned his appeal to evangelical voters. (Gingrich had given the 2007 commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.) Lane was also among those who vouched for Gingrich during that race, as did Wallnau, who “urged adherents to read an eighteen-page treatise Garlow had written outlining the reasons conservative Christians should support Gingrich,” The Nation reported. “Among them: his ‘Churchillian fortitude,’ his ‘understanding of war’ and his talent for taking ‘a verbal chain saw to the hollow trunks of the trees of radical secularism.’”

During that 2012 presidential run, Gingrich appointed dominionist Dutch Sheets a national co-chair of his Faith Leaders Coalition. In a major 2012 story on Gingrich’s appeal to the Religious Right, The Nation’s Mariah Blake reported on Gingrich’s appearances at David Lane’s events for conservative pastors, where his remarks were “an ideological hand grenade” in the context of Barton’s Christian-nation history:

Gingrich adds that he has studied the founding documents, including the Declaration, and believes they call for “a very bold restructuring of Washington, DC, on a scale that nobody in Washington in either party is prepared to talk about.”

Lane is now making a full-court press. Back in May, he declared that Trump “can be one of the top four presidents in American history” and urged him to pick Gingrich in order to “mobilize evangelical and Catholic pro-life conservatives who stayed home in the last election cycle.” And on July 4, a day before his Gingrich endorsement in TIME, Lane was quoted in a Washington Times story raving about Gingrich:

“Newt may be the only living former legislator who can walk in on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, with the working knowledge to orchestrate and drive an agenda for limited government, deregulation of business, lower taxes and return of control to the states,” Mr. Lane said.

“Besides helping pull the wagon to get Trump elected, Newt may be the only adult in the room when it comes to governing with the institutional knowledge and grit to make the hard decisions to save America,” the Los Angeles-based Mr. Lane added.

It’s not clear what Trump sees in Gingrich, beyond his arrogance, narcissism and appeal to an important part of the Republican Party’s base that Trump is actively courting. But it might just as well be Gingrich’s reputation for cutthroat politics. During his heyday in the 1990s, Gingrich did much to encourage ugliness and bitter partisanship in American politics. A now infamous memo from his political organization GOPAC, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” urged conservatives to smear their opponents with words such as “betray,” “corrupt,” “decay,” “disgrace,” “pathetic,” “radical,” “sick,” “traitors” and many more.

Sound familiar?

Defending Roy Moore's Nullification Efforts, Liberty Counsel Shows New Concern For 'Judicial Independence'

Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group that opposes legal equality for LGBT Americans, held a press conference on Wednesday with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has been waging a campaign of resistance to the Supreme Court’s June 2015 marriage equality ruling.

Moore and his Liberty Counsel lawyers were calling on the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission to dismiss ethical complaints that had been filed against Moore earlier in 2015 after he urged the governor not to comply with a federal court order on marriage equality. Moore, of course, had gotten in trouble before; in 2003 he was removed from his seat on the court when he refused a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the rotunda of the judicial building.

People For the American Way Foundation was one of the groups that filed a complaint against Moore last year. The PFAWF complaint, which you can read here, was filed in early 2015, based on actions he took when he began to insert himself into a federal marriage equality case that was not before his court. He accused federal judges across the country of seeking to impose tyranny upon the nation, and he suggested he might not comply with a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality (which came down a few months later). The complaint spells out the Canons of Judicial Ethics that Moore violated, undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. “Like the United States as a whole, Alabama is governed by the rule of law,” the complaint concludes, noting that “the history of the state shows the violent and tragic consequences when that ideal is not met.” The complaint asked that Moore once again be removed from his office.

In defending Moore on Thursday, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver dismissed the complaints as “politically motivated” and warned that they “pose a threat to the doctrine of judicial independence.” Continued Staver, “Judges must be free to exercise their considered judgment without the threat of being attacked by organizations and individuals who wish to misuse the ethical process to further a radical political agenda.”

Staver’s concern for Moore’s judicial independence is touching, if a bit surprising, given that Staver was a cheerleader for Religious Right attacks on Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality. After a political campaign that was successful in unseating three state justices in 2010 retention elections, Staver crowed, “The justices crossed the line when they played the role of a legislator and abandoned judicial restraint.”

Moore also said at Wednesday’s press conference that this was about “judicial independence.” But when right-wing groups were cranking up the outrage machine against Iowa Supreme Court justices, Moore joined in the condemnation, saying that the conservative outcry against the justices would send “a signal all across the nation.”

Mike Huckabee's 2016 Themes? God In Textbooks And Attacks On Judges

Part of the Christian-nation lineup at this weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority conference was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a right-wing media figure and former (and likely future) presidential candidate.

Excerpts from Huckabee's remarks:

Huckabee said that he and his wife recently went to China to celebrate their 40th anniversary. He said he hadn’t been earlier because he doesn’t like the Chinese government — citing piracy and dumping but, oddly, not China’s repression of dissent and religious freedom.

He praised the flowering of entrepreneurship in China, saying the country is becoming more like America used to be and America is becoming more like China used to be. Huckabee compared NSA spying to Chinese control over Internet access. And more absurdly, he equated the Chinese government’s erasure from history of the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square with what he said was our country’s treatment of the role of God in America’s founding.

“And I thought I’m so glad that I’m in a country that would never erase a significant part of our history, and then I remember that we are erasing most of the history of this country. We’re telling young people that God had nothing to do with the foundation of this country when in fact there wouldn’t be a United States of America if it were not for the men and women of faith who got on their knees to pray and then got on their feet to fight, who took muskets off their mantles and took on the toughest  army that had ever existed in the world at that time and had no chance of creating a new country, but they did -- because of the Providence of God’s hand. And you try to find that in an American textbook today in a public school, and good luck doing it.

Maybe Huckabee’s desire to have public school textbooks teaching that God was behind America’s founding reflects the fact that he’s been hanging out with Christian-nation zealot David Lane, who wants to make the Bible a primary public school textbook. CBN’s David Brody reported on Friday that Lane has organized a European trip for Huckabee and pastors from key primary states.  Huckabee says the trip, called “Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II Tour: God Raising Extraordinary Leaders for Extraordinary Times,” is an opportunity to show “the human instruments used by God to change the world’s history.”

Huckabee clearly has a hankering to put himself in that category. At the Faith and Freedom conference, he railed against government regulation and “irrational people” running the government. He said abortion is “a curse for which we will answer.” He also signaled what may be a defining campaign issue if he decides to run: an attack on the federal courts.

And one of the things that I do not understand is why more Americans have not rallied in opposition to the notion that just because the Court says something that that is the final word. Have we not read our Constitution? Have we not reminded ourselves that we have three branches of government, not one, and all of those three branches are equal branches of government. One is them is not superior to either of the other two, and certainly not to both of the other two. This notion that when the Supreme Court says something it’s the last word is fundamentally unconstitutional and wrong. It is the Supreme Court, not the supreme branch.  And we have allowed guys and women in black robes not simply to interpret a law, but to transform a law, rewrite a law, and actually prescribe the fix and implement it, two responsibilities and functions that are left exclusively and totally to the legislative and executive branches.

It is high time that we recognize that one of the greatest threats to our liberty in this land is the notion of judicial supremacy. There is no such thing in the Constitution of judicial supremacy, and one of the ways in which we must transform America, unlike the way that our current occupant of the White House has transformed America, is to teach our children and to teach our peers that ultimately the authority in this country is not the courts, nor is it even the legislature or the executive branch, the ultimate authority in this country still remains the people of America, We the People.   And if we don’t truly believe that and exercise that, we will lose this country not because we have to, but because we have given it away.

Huckabee that he is optimistic, because there has never been a greater opportunity to show what freedom looks like – and it’s not just because there are a lot of conservative activists motivated to fight.

It’s because I believe that there is a God, and that his country would not be here without him, and that if this country will get on its knees and it will ask God’s forgiveness for how we have behaved. It’s not about the people who hate us, it’s about those of us who decide we wanna love God more than we wanna hate our enemies. And when we get on our knees in forgiveness, God will heal our land and He will restore us.

To those at the conference who seem overly pessimistic about the state of the country and the world, he said he’s “read the end of the book,” and his message is, “In the end, we win, and that’s good news.”

“Independent” John Sununu Rubberstamped 100% of George Bush’s Right-Wing Judges

In New Hampshire, the state Republican Party attempted to defend Senator John Sununu’s support of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito by calling Sununu “an independent voice for New Hampshire.” People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said, “If John Sununu is an independent voice, why has he voted for every single one of President Bush’s most extreme judicial nominees? On the most important votes he’s taken confirming nominees to lifetime seats on the federal bench, he’s voted in lockstep with George W. Bush. He’s certainly distinguished himself as one of President Bush’s most loyal allies; he can’t reasonably be called ‘independent.’”

PFAW Ads Target Sununu’s Record on Judges

People For the American Way will begin running radio ads next week in New Hampshire focusing on Senator John Sununu’s support of George Bush's ulta-conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, and releasing a web video with the same theme.

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