Attacks on Judiciary Down But Not Out

The Right’s rhetorical war on the judiciary reached its fever pitch in 2005, when Congress broke a vacation to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. To take one example from many, Rep. Tom DeLay, then House Majority Leader, declared that the judiciary had “run amok,” warned, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” He later added, “Our next step, whatever it is, must be more than rhetoric.”

Since then, Congress has changed parties, and DeLay, tied to a corrupt lobbyist and indicted in Texas for laundering campaign money, is out of office, and so it feels like the pressure has been dialed down a notch. At least, that’s how it seems to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Particularly since the 2006 election, I am pleased to relate, rapport between Congress and the federal courts has markedly improved,” Ginsburg said at a meeting of American and Canadian judges in Vancouver.

No bills limiting judges’ independence have been introduced in the current Congress and “one sees far fewer broadsides against ‘activist judges’ reported in the press,” Ginsburg said. … She recounted with distaste comments about judges made in 2005 by two Texas Republicans, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Sen. John Cornyn.

Cornyn had expressed his “concern” that there might be “some connection” between “unaccountable” judges and violent attacks against members of the judiciary.

While far-right members of Congress like Todd Akin continue to introduce legislation to tamper with the courts—such as his bill to impeach judges when Congress disagrees with their opinions—Justice Ginsburg is right that, without right-wing leadership in Congress, such efforts will lead nowhere.

Unfortunately, while the days of the “nuclear option” and Tom DeLay are behind us, the current status may be the calm before the storm, when a future Supreme Court nominee or even just the politics of the presidential debate will likely cause tensions to flare again. GOP candidates have pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices in the Scalia-Thomas mold, and at the recent Values Voter Debate, second-tier candidates–including religious-right favorite Mike Huckabee–pledged support to a court-stripping measure.

“In ’08, it’s all about the judges,” as Rick Scarborough stated recently.