Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to offer all of us some pearls of wisdom.
His latest is an old standby: If you don’t like a court ruling, find a way to shut down the court.
Buchanan got on this tear because President Donald J. Trump, you might have noticed, is having a little trouble with his ill-conceived executive order that attempted to impose a “Muslim ban” on immigrants and refugees. A federal court in Washington state put it on hold, a ruling that was later upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A separate federal court in Virginia also struck down application of the ban in that state, explicitly citing its church-state faults. (Americans United has been involved in all of these cases.)
In a recent column for WorldNetDaily, Buchanan laments these things because he longs for an autocrat as president. “Trump has warned the judges that if they block his travel ban, and this results in preventable acts of terror on American soil, they will be held accountable. As rightly they should,” Buchanan snarled.
Judges -- black robes and all -- are frequent targets for verbal assaults by the far right.
At the end of the column, Buchanan calls on Trump to “restrict the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and to reclaim its stolen powers.” He asserts, “A clipping of the court’s wings is long overdue.” (Hat tip to blogger Ed Brayton, a friend of Americans United, who wrote about this yesterday.)
Note Buchanan’s use of language here. He talks about “preventable acts of terror.” Who will decide whether an act of terror was “preventable”? Who will make the call to blame judges for something that might well have been caused by the president’s ill-conceived policies, his often-unhinged behavior or his failure to protect the nation?
Let me guess: Trump?
Make no mistake about what’s going on here. Trump called U.S. District Judge James Robart, an appointee of President George W. Bush, a “so-called judge” after Robart put Trump’s poorly written, unconstitutional order on hold. Trump’s choice of words was deliberate. It’s an attempt to de-legitimize the judge and, by extension, our court system. Beyond that, it’s an assault on the separation of powers, the concept of three coequal branches of government and the rule of law.
Trump is a relative newcomer to this kind of demagoguery, but Buchanan mastered it a long time ago. Like all advocates of right-wing autocratic government, Buchanan despises any institution that would dare check the power of his longed-for strongman. (He’s also a hypocrite. Just imagine the howls of protest Buchanan would have unleashed if President Barack Obama had proposed limiting the powers of a court that ruled against him.)
Buchanan’s attack on judges is depressingly familiar. He calls them “politicians [who] don black robes and seize powers they do not have.” (What is it with these guys and the black robes? They always bring them up. Would they really feel better if our judges wore yellow robes?) His demonization of the judiciary is an old story, one Buchanan has been telling for a long time.
Consider this gem from Buchanan’s rant: “Secularist justices de-Christianized our country. They invented new rights for vicious criminals as though criminal justice were a game. They tore our country apart with idiotic busing orders to achieve racial balance in public schools. They turned over centuries of tradition and hundreds of state, local and federal laws to discover that the rights to an abortion and same-sex marriage were there in Madison’s Constitution all along. We just couldn’t see them.”
So now we see what the real problem is: Judges have dared to safeguard the rights of people, usually members of vulnerable populations, that Buchanan doesn’t like. They dared check his privilege. Courts stopped a thoughtless Christian majority from forcing their religion onto non-Christians in public schools. They made sure that those accused of crimes had certain rights. They gave minorities a shot at a decent education. They allowed women to make their own decisions about reproduction, and they granted dignity and equal treatment to the LGBTQ community.
Our courts did these things even when they might not have been popular because judges realized that the Constitution isn’t about the majority running roughshod over others; it’s about protecting the rights of everyone.
We are all disappointed by court rulings from time to time, and it's certainly all right to express concern about a judge's judicial philosophy. There are ways to do that without asserting that the entire American system of government should be overturned. Buchanan’s implication that a judge’s ruling should be ignored or defied is reckless and dangerous. It’s the worst kind of demagoguery.
Such talk shows a fundamental disrespect for our nation and its republican and democratic traditions (small r and d in both cases). The people who espouse this rhetoric often claim to be patriots, but their use of it unmasks them for what they really are: un-American zealots who don’t respect the Constitution they so loudly claim to treasure.