Newt Gingrich attends a screening of "The Gift of Life" at the… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
Newt Gingrich says as president he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander in chief, and he would press for impeaching judges or even abolishing certain courts if he disagreed with their rulings.
"I'm fed up with elitist judges" who seek to impose their "radically un-American" views, Gingrich said Saturday in a conference call with reporters.
In recent weeks, the Republican presidential contender has been telling conservative audiences he is determined to expose the myth of "judicial supremacy" and restrain judges to a more limited role in American government. "The courts have become grotesquely dictatorial and far too powerful," he said in Thursday's Iowa debate.
As a historian, Gingrich said he knows President Thomas Jefferson abolished some judgeships, and President Abraham Lincoln made clear he did not accept the Dred Scott decision denying that former slaves could be citizens.
Relying on those precedents, Gingrich said that if he were in the White House, he would not feel compelled to always follow the Supreme Court's decisions on constitutional questions. As an example, he cited the court's 5-4 decision in 2008 that prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had a right to challenge their detention before a judge.
"That was clearly an overreach by the court," Gingrich said Saturday. The president as commander in chief has the power to control prisoners during wartime, making the court's decision "null and void," he said.
But the former House speaker demurred when asked whether President Obama could ignore a high court ruling next year if it declared unconstitutional the new healthcare law and its mandate that all Americans have health insurance by 2014. Gingrich said presidents can ignore court rulings only in "extraordinary" situations.
On his website, Gingrich spelled out his views on courts.
"While abolishing judgeships and lower federal courts is a blunt tool and one whose use is warranted only in the most extreme of circumstances … it is one of many possibilities to check and balance the judiciary," he wrote. "Other constitutional options, including impeachment, are better suited" to check wayward judges.
"In very rare circumstances, the executive branch might choose to ignore a court decision," he wrote.
Gingrich also said that as president he might ignore a Supreme Court ruling if it held gays and lesbians had the right to marry.
"The Constitution of the United States has absolutely nothing to say about a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Were the federal courts to recognize such a right, it would be completely without constitutional basis," he wrote.
While his critique of the courts has been popular on the right, even some conservatives object to Gingrich's proposals on abolishing courts or impeaching judges over their decisions.
Conservative legal analyst Edward Whelan called Gingrich's proposal for abolishing judgeships "constitutionally unsound and politically foolish."
The Constitution says judges, once appointed, "shall hold their offices during good behavior." And while their decisions can be overruled by higher courts, judges have not been threatened with impeachment over their rulings.