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Rising Rick Santorum Would Rewrite the Constitution, Abolish Courts | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Rising Rick Santorum Would Rewrite the Constitution, Abolish Courts

Dubuque, IO—Rick Santorum claims he is a “constitutional conservative.” But his approach to the US Constitution is anything but conservative. Indeed, to a greater extent than any of the current Republican presidential contenders, he proposes to reinterpret and reconfigure the founding document to get it in sync with his extreme way of thinking.

When it comes to the Constitution, Santorum is the ultimate “I love you, now change” man. Like the other candidates for the Republican nomination, he claims to cherish the document. But he wants to amend and reinterpret it. He rejects historic assessments of the separation of powers, dismisses the system of checks and balances and proposes to “abolish” federal courts with which he disagrees.

Why should anyone care about Santorum’s love-hate relationship with the Constitution?

Because the former senator from Pennsylvania is enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame as—perhaps—the last “credible” contender for the Republican presidential nomination who is not Mitt Romney or Ron Paul.

The latest polling from Iowa has Santorum rising fast as former front-runner Newt Gingrich fades toward footnote status. Santorum is now a Top 3 candidate, according to several new surveys, displacing Gingrich and moving ahead of his fellow contenders for support from Iowa’s powerful evangelical voting bloc—Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann (whose Iowa campaign chief just endorsed Texas Congressman Paul) and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The CNN/Time/ORC poll has Romney in first place with 25 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 22 percent and Santorum at 16 percent. Gingrich, who once claimed 33 percent support is now at 14 percent. Perry is at 11 percent, Bachmann’s at 9 percent.

Santorum is up eleven points from where he was a month ago. He now leads among evangelical voters, and with the Gingrich and Bachmann campaigns imploding, he has plenty of room for growth. If he grows into a solid third- or even second-place finish in Iowa, Santorum will be positioned to unify the religious-right voting bloc as the Republican race moves toward Southern states where social conservatives are often definitional players.

Why is Santorum suddenly on the rise? It has something to do with fact that he has become a parking place for voters who have a problem with Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion and Ron Paul’s libertarian ideology. The one-liners circulating in Iowa offer variations on a theme: “Santorum is Latin for ‘Not Romney,” “Santorum is Latin for ‘Not Mormon.’ ”

But there is more to it than that.

For voters seeking a social-conservative extremist as their candidate, Santorum has a lot to offer. Indeed, as The Advocate notes, the former senator has staked out a position at “the farthest end of the religious conservative spectrum.”

Santorum has no qualms about rewriting the Constitution as a social-conservative manifesto.

He says he would lead the fight to:

1. Amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, thus enshrining discrimination in the document.

2. Amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and with it a woman’s right to choose.

3. Amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, in order to “force our government to address the entitlement crisis”code for dismantling Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs that the Christian right would like to see replaced with “faith-based initiatives.”

Of course, Santorum would have trouble getting the necessary support, in Congress or the states for such a radical reworking of the Constitution. But his stances tell us a lot about whereon the far right of American politics—he is coming from.

And what of federal judges who might choose to follow the dictates of the Constitution when it comes to providing equal protection under the law or respecting the rights of minorities?

Santorum would urge Congress to get rid of them.

Embracing a fringe interpretation of Constitutional mandates regarding the scope and character of the federal government, Santorum argues that the judicial branch should be seen as being subservient to the executive and legislative branches because—and Santorum really is serious about this—the section of the Constitution that outlines the plan for a federal judiciary comes after the articles that conceived the presidency and the Congress.

Santorum’s assessment is simply wrong; the judiciary is a coequal branch of the federal government, along with the executive and legislative branches. To suggest otherwise is absurd, and dangerous. With his rejection of the founding vision of a separation of powers, and of the view that such a separation is needed to defend against tyranny, the former senator is rewriting history to suit his ideological and political purposes.

Santorum’s disregard for the the system of checks and balances is so sweeping that he suggests that the Congress has the power to shut down courts with which a majority disagrees. In particular, Santorum proposes to abolish the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has for many years been in the forefront of defending individual liberty, secular society and the rule of law.

Speaking of how members of Congress should relate to the courts, Santorum says: “They can establish them, and if those courts violate the Constitution and do things that they should be stopped from doing, they have the power to repeal those courts, to abolish these courts.”

Santorum’s view, which roughly parallels that of Gingrich, represents a radical reinterpretation of the existing power of Congress to create new courts—a necessity in a growing country. It would give members of the House and Senate sweeping authority to police and punish judges who respect the law, as opposed to the demands of political partisans and extreme ideologues.

That, of course, is the whole point of Rick Santorum.

He is not a “constitutional conservative.” And he is certainly not a proponent of the principle, advanced by the founders, that the United States should be governed by the rule of law, not the rule of men. Quite the opposite. For Santorum, it is the rule of men—particularly right-wing evangelical men—that supersedes the rule of law as outlined in the Constitution.

That Constitution has been assaulted all too frequently in recent years by Republican and Democratic presidents. But the battering it would take from Santorum, whose candidacy has been built on a promise to radically rewrite and even more radically reinterpret the document, would be unprecedented,

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