Checks, Balances, and Wiki

Phyllis Schlafly has been a towering figure on the Right for more than four decades: inspiring Barry Goldwater’s foot soldiers with “A Choice Not an Echo,” founding the Eagle Forum and leading the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, and continuing to rail against supposedly “activist” judges standing in the way of her agenda.

“Liberals in this country know that they don’t have the hearts of the American people…so their game plan is to take their issues to the courts,” said Schlafly at the Conservative Political Action Conference, repeating a theme she’s been talking up for years. What was new this time was that she brought her son, Andy.

Andy Schlafly, general counsel for the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, may seem like an unlikely candidate to be a right-wing spokesman—even if, as his mother felt the need to say, he attended Harvard Law School. But the AAPS is hardly just a boring professional society; it’s a far-right splinter from the American Medical Association dedicated to opposing abortion and government-funded health care. And Andy Schlafly has already made a name for himself on the Internet, first as a defender of creationism on a USENET discussion group and then as an instructor of right-wing politics for Eagle Forum University.

But what really made Andy Schlafly an electronic celebrity was his quixotic fight against Wikipedia, the user-compiled online encyclopedia. Decrying Wikipedia’s “liberal bias,” Schlafly founded Conservapedia, which quickly became a laughingstock for its bizarre agenda and shoddy execution on subjects such as animal origins, homosexuality, and basic facts.

Mr. Schlafly believes that the judiciary, like Wikipedia, has a liberal bias. He called upon the CPAC crowd to pressure John McCain on the issue, to make “sure we’re not fooled by the next Supreme Court nominee.” McCain, of course, promised to nominate judges like Roberts and Alito, but “that’s not good enough,” according to Schlafly, who called on McCain to set up a right-wing panel to select candidates for the judiciary and get assurance on their far-right bona fides. “[We] don’t want judges who say it’s unconstitutional for a teacher to lead class in prayer,” said Schlafly—but most importantly, “[we’re] looking for the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Ultimately, Schlafly was pessimistic about the chances for more right-wing nominees in the next few years—but he had a plan: court-stripping. Merely by writing into legislation a clause taking away the court’s jurisdiction, Schlafly asserted, Congress can keep the federal courts (and Americans’ basic rights, apparently) “under its thumb.”

Schlafly said court-stripping would be “essential to the life issue,” complaining that judges have a habit of delaying the enforcement of newly passed abortion restrictions—ones that push the boundaries of reproductive law—while the legality of such laws is being considered. Schlafly encouraged lawmakers to include in such legislation a provision telling courts to take a hike.

When a child is misbehaving with a toy, Schlafly said, “You take the toy away from the child. When the court is abusing its authority, you take that authority away.”

Of course, the judicial branch is not a child, and Congress is not its parent. Simply editing checks and balances out of the picture—like Conservapedia’s creative rewrite of a “biased” democratic encyclopedia—does not actually change reality.