Maddow Gives Santorum a Lesson in Civics

Rachel Maddow had Rick Santorum on her show as a guest and she gave him something of a civics lesson, explaining why his claim that Congress can just pass a law overturning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling is just plain false. He didn’t get it, of course.

“You’re fundamentally wrong on civics,” Maddow said. “If there is a question as to the constitutionality of a law, it gets adjudicated. The second syllable in that word means it gets decided in the judiciary. The Supreme Court decides whether or not a law is constitutional. So you could not now pass a law that said, ‘We’re banning same-sex marriage.’”

Santorum then argued that “Congress can pass anything it wants to pass,” regardless of the high court’s decisions to justify passing a new ban on same-sex marriages.

“So you want them to pass a moot bill?” Maddow asked.

“It wouldn’t be moot,” he insisted, saying that the court could find it “misread the tea leaves” between its ruling last month and a possible new bill…

“Well, the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court,” she replied.

“But it’s not a superior branch of government,” Santorum said. “If the Congress comes back and says, ‘We disagree with you, and we’re able to pass a law and get it signed by the president, saying the courts are wrong –”

“No, you could not pass a law that could contradict the constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court,” Maddow countered, as Santorum began asking why. “You could amend the Constitution.”

“Why?” Santorum asked again.

“Because they’re ruling on the constitutionality of that law,” she responded. When Santorum tried to argue that the ruling was made “on an unconstitutional basis,” Maddow shot back, “They decide what’s constitutional.”

All of this rhetoric about the Supreme Court purporting to be a “superior branch of government” is just nonsense. The Supreme Court is not more powerful than the other two branches, but it does have specific powers not granted to the other branches, just as they have specific powers not granted to the courts. Congress has the exclusive power to lay taxes, which the other branches of government cannot do. That doesn’t make them “superior” to the other two branches. The president has the exclusive power as commander-in-chief. That doesn’t make the president “superior” to the other two branches. And yes, the Supreme Court decides which laws are constitutional and which are not. That also does not make them “superior” to the other two branches. And Santorum is just clueless about what the Constitution means.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Santorum doesn’t know anything about how the government and the supreme court work. I am so super utterly shocked, I nearly unhinged my jaw gaping at the screen.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    Well, he’s right that Congress can pass anything it wants to pass. He doesn’t explain how passing laws that will get shut down by the courts is a good use of taxpayer money.

  • whheydt

    I suppose this sort of thing could be used as a sanity check on presidential candidates. Does a candidate understand what would have to be done to overturn a SCOTUS decision based on constitutional grounds? If the answer is “no”, then reject that one and move on the next candidate. Of course, it’s distinctly possible that *all* the Republican candidates would fail this test.

  • gertzedek

    Technically, Santorum’s not wrong…in theory, Congress could pass a law contradicting a Supreme Court decision in the hopes that SCOTUS would overrule the precedent. It’s just incredibly stupid, because not only will it take a lot of time and money, but SCOTUS is really unlikely to overrule a precedent the same court set just a couple of years earlier. If Congress really wants to pass laws that will never go into effect, it’s free to do so, as far as I understand.

    Actually, I kinda like that. “Santorum 2016: Not technically wrong, just stupid”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    Santorum’s not wrong, and neither is Maddow. They were looking at it in two different ways and talking past each other.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    Even for a Republican, he is abysmally ignorant of how government works. Even more frightening, he served as a US senator.

  • busterggi

    I’m surprised Santorum didn’t just say that the final decision should be made by the Pope.

  • Trebuchet

    Glad to hear Santorum thinks SCOTUS had no right to make that Citizens United decision.

  • elvenpiratefish

    Is Santorum wrong? No. Is his strategy likely to work anytime in the next 10 years? No. The only way he would have a chance at succeeding at this would be for one of the 5 in the Gay Marriage majority to leave the court while Santorum or a similar Republican was in the presidency, with a strong social conservative majority in both houses, and the republicans would have to hold onto the presidency long enough to work all the appeals through the courts. Its honestly part of the same strategy they’ve been using to reverse Roe. The problem for the Santorum’s of the world is that once a decision like this comes down it becomes harder and harder to undue. Think of it this way, in theory the court could reverse itself on Brown v Board tomorrow if the right case was before them, there is just no way you can imagine it happening. Even the fight to repeal Roe has been going on for 30 years and they still haven’t managed to do it, though the current court is the most likely of any in that time to reverse itself on Roe.

  • Knight in Sour Armor

    Yeah, SCOTUS doesn’t really like reversing its decisions… and for those folks that want to somehow make them elected, well, even Scalia wouldn’t go for that. SCOTUS is the most potentially powerful branch of government (due to judicial review) for a reason, namely they don’t idly let their authority be trampled upon by Congress or the Presidency. By and large that’s probably a good thing ‘cuz it means that more often than not they’re a force for change for marginalized groups.

  • freehand

    Santorum is accidentally right in thinking that congress can pass any law that they want, but he seems to think that it would be sufficient to overrule SCOTUS. He knows less than I did in 6th grade about a subject that bored me to tears. Fundamentalists, whether SBC or RCC, have a hard time understanding balance of powers, rule by law (rather than royal decree), rights for everyone and the fact that they apply to all. They do not typically seem able to grasp hypothetical situations well, nor the distinction behind describing what is from advocating what should be. The word “evidence” continues to elude them, and they are unable to explain why one argument is logically correct but not another.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Given that he actually graduated from law school and passed the Bar, I’m more inclined to believe that he’s bullshitting than clueless.

  • carpenterman

    Santorum knows he’s spouting BS. He just assumes (correctly) that enough of his supporters don’t know he’s spouting BS that they’ll keep the money rolling in. He can’t abandon his line now, because otherwise he won’t get the post-election speaking fees and book deals from all these deluded fools who will continue to see him as the prophet in the wilderness, fighting The Gay with his last breath.He can’t possibly be as ignorant about how the government functions as he seems; how could he have even graduated from college, let alone law school? No… this is Santorum’s gravy train, and he’ll say whatever he needs to to keep the train running. (See: Sarah Palin).

  • moarscienceplz

    Santorum loves The Constitution waaay more than you microbrew-drinking brie-eating liberals do, so he obviously knows what is and what isn’t Constitutional better than liberals do, even liberals who happen to be Supreme Court Justices. (And if you voted against what Santorum likes, then you are a liberal Supreme Court Justice no matter what the rest of the world thinks.)

  • howardhershey

    It’s never the principle; it’s always the specifics. If he agrees with the SCoTUS, no problem. If he disagrees, tyranny that needs to be overturned.

  • Nemo

    What carpenterman said. Watching the interview, I got the impression that Santorum understood Maddow’s points perfectly well, and was basically just pandering.

  • Nemo

    Although I disagree about Sarah Palin, I think she’s genuinely that ignorant.

  • otrame

    Santorum knows better. He’s not talking to Maddow, he’s talking to people he wants to vote for him, so he says all that nonsense, which he KNOWS is nonsense, to encourage them to vote for him. IOW, he’s lying.