Maddow Gives Santorum a Lesson in Civics

Maddow Gives Santorum a Lesson in Civics July 24, 2015

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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