“Strict constructionism,” whatever that means, was a hot topic at Saturday’s GOP presidential forum on Fox News. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry took pains to show that they would be very strict about their constructionism. Channeling George W. Bush, they heartily endorsed the rulings of Roberts and Alito and spoke out against judges who supposedly “legislate from the bench.”
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli kicked things off by asking Perry, “What does the term ‘strict constructionist’ mean to you and would that be the standard for your nominees to the Supreme Court?”
Perry, somewhat giddy, replied that “Alito and a Roberts are the type of the jurists, a strict constructionist, not a legislator in a robe.” “You know, we have about four of each of those on the Supreme Court,” he continued.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt raised the possibility of multiple vacancies on the Supreme Court during the next presidential term, and asked Romney what it means to him to appoint a “strict constructionist.” Romney said that he looks “at the opinions of the last several years by justices like Roberts and Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and I say, these people are strict constructionists.”
Despite all the talk about “strict constructionists,” it was hard to know from their words what they actually meant by it. Mike Huckabee, the host, acknowledged as much when he asked Perry, “We’ve all talked about ‘strict constructionists.’ For the layman out there, just help them understand exactly what that means.”
Perry sputtered for a couple seconds, then fumbled with his lapel, knocking his mic loose, and pulled out a pocket constitution. Holding it out, upside down no less, Perry defined the term: “It’s right there… That’s the Constitution. Read it. Exactly what it says. That’s what we’re talking about. Don’t read anything into it. Don’t add to it.” Well, that explains it!
There’s actually a good reason for all the vague language around “strict constructionism.” When you look at the rulings of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, “strict constructionism” has a very different meaning – being strict with everyday Americans while constructing new rights and privileges for powerful business interests, such as the right for corporations to be “people” and spend unlimited sums to influence elections.
It’s little wonder that Romney and Perry, like Bush, are sticking to vague buzzwords and catchphrases. Here are some clips of the candidates from Saturday alongside clips of Bush from 2004 and 2008: