Who Is Really Trying to Intimidate the Judiciary?

by Dan Quinn

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is upset about President Obama’s comments that a Supreme Court decision to overturn the health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, would represent “unprecedented, extraordinary” judicial activism. Senator McConnell said today that the president is trying to “intimidate” the Supreme Court:

“With his words, he was no longer trying to embarrass the Court after a decision; rather, he tried to intimidate it before a decision has been made. And that should be intolerable to all of us.”

Oh, cry me a river.

Senator McConnell is ignoring the right’s decades-long assault on an independent judiciary. Last year, for example, Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that judges who make decisions he think represent judicial activism should be arrested. Gingrich has also said that judges who engage in what he calls “judicial supremacy” should be impeached.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also attacks what he considers judicial activism and argues that judges can be held “accountable” by ending lifetime tenure. He even calls the Supreme Court “nine oligarchs in robes.”

Religious-righters have been especially abusive in their attacks on an independent judiciary. Phyllis Schlafly, head of the far-right group Eagle Forum, frequently lashes out at “judicial supremacists.” The 2010 platform of the Texas Republican Party (which has been under the religious right’s control for nearly two decades) attacks an “activist judiciary” and calls for removing from office “judges who abuse their power.”

And few things anger religious-righters more than court decisions upholding a woman’s right to choose to have abortion and overturning laws against sodomy and same-sex marriage. The Texas GOP platform, for example, urges “Congress to withhold the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom and the Bill of Rights.” The message to judges, of course, is that politicians might limit their authority if they don’t make the “right” decisions in controversial cases.

If Mitch McConnell is really worried about folks trying to “intimidate” judges, perhaps he could call out some of the folks in his own political camp.