2012 Election | FOX News | Mike Huckabee | Rick Perry | Supreme Court

Rick Perry: We Had To Burn The Constitution In Order To Save It

Last night, during Mike Huckabee's presidential candidates' forum on FOX, Rick Perry repeatedly deployed his favorite catchy epithet for those Supreme Court justices with whom he happens to disagree. "Legislators in robes," he called them, as opposed to "strict constructionists." "We've got about four of each" on the Supreme Court, he said. And because there are so many "legislators in robes" on the Supreme Court, Gov. Perry said his White House would push for Supreme Court term limits. "Now, obviously, that would take a Constitutional amendment," he explained.

Moments later, when Gov. Huckabee asked Gov. Perry to explain, for the benefit of the laymen watching, what he meant by "strict constructionist," Gov. Perry reached into his pocket and whipped out a copy of the Constitution. "Read it. Exactly what it says. That's what we're talking about. Don't read anything into it. Don't add to it."

But "adding" to the Constitution is exactly what an amendment does. For the record, the Constitution says only that Supreme Court justices shall serve so long as they exhibit "good behavior." Perry, in asserting that this formulation is inadequate, gives up the whole game: "The Constitution is sacrosanct, except for the bits I don't like."

Watch Rick Perry explain this with a straight face, AFTER THE JUMP ...


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  1. To be honest, I'm absolutely in favor of term limits. These days it isn't a good idea to appoint a relatively young judge who can then easily serve 20-30 years. It great increases the risk that their attitudes are eventually out of step with society. Having a term limit of 12 or 15 years would be the right thing. Maybe it could also contribute a bit to make the process less political

    Posted by: Steve | Dec 4, 2011 10:58:50 AM

  2. Though I don't want to defend Perry's muddled opinion of the Constitution in any way, and it is very clear that he doesn't really understand what a strict constructionist is, pushing for term limits on the Supreme Court is not at all an unreasonable idea and would probably benefit a wide swath of the political spectrum.

    It's silly to continue the antiquated idea that Justices do not have political beliefs in the same way politicians do--the whole "legislators in robes" thing is TOTALLY ridiculous, but what is not ridiculous is the idea that during each President's term he or she can expect to make a set number of Supreme Court appointments, instead of participating in a bizarre arms race of youth and hoping it takes a while for them to retire or die.

    Posted by: Max | Dec 4, 2011 11:01:06 AM

  3. If it were possible to solve every dispute by a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution or statutes, there would be no need for any judges. But it's not possible, that's why we have the judicial branch. Supreme Court judges don't have term limits because the founding fathers wanted them to make decisions without consideration to the current political climate in the other two branches of government. It's an attempt to prevent job security concerns from affecting judgments.

    Posted by: marc | Dec 4, 2011 11:12:20 AM

  4. Um, he obviously was discussing the role of a judge in interpreting the constitution, i.e., a judge, in reading the Constitution, should not read into it language that isn't there. He wasn't referring to a formal amendment process, which would be conducted not by judges but by Congress and the states. So Brandon's post here is kind of lame. That having been said, judges absolutely have to "add" language to the Constitution b/c our Constitution is a brief, broadly written document and its principles have to be applied to a myriad of different factual situations. "Due process of law" doesn't mean much unless you have a judicial analysis to go along with it.

    Posted by: Vito | Dec 4, 2011 11:14:41 AM

  5. Don't read anything into it? The Constitution is intentionally vague. If Rick Perry had ever taken (or passed) an intro to American government course, he would know this. The framers understood that it was impossible to create a lasting document that was specific enough to address all future contingencies that may develop in a nation. To that end, they created a broad framework with only a small number of specific prescriptions. One of these was lifetime appointment of Supreme Court justices (which is why we have one of the shortest written constitutions of any existing democracy). But Rick Perry wants to "not read anything into" a document that, by design, *requires* interpretation? And then he wants to amend one of the actual specificities of the Constitution because he does not approve of it? Tell me again why this person is even still considered a candidate for president?

    Posted by: RyanInSacto | Dec 4, 2011 11:24:19 AM

  6. Not to mention, a constitutional amendment is not required. There is nothing in the COnstitution setting out the number of Supreme Court judges. This would be evident to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of US history, as it was the subject of FDR's famous court-packing plan. A topic that comes up quite a bit in the context of health care reform and so-called socialist programs.

    Posted by: CAHBF | Dec 4, 2011 11:35:21 AM

  7. Actually, I misread that, I thought he was talking about the number of justices.

    Posted by: CAHBF | Dec 4, 2011 11:36:59 AM

  8. The founders also though that reason would prevail and drive superstition away. That didn't work out either. Yeah, in theory a lifetime appointment insulates them somewhat from politics. In practice it clearly doesn't and few things are as politicized as Supreme Court appointments. Precisely because they have such a long lasting influence. Other countries are doing fine with term limits - including ones where a high number of laws are declared unconstitutional

    Posted by: Steve | Dec 4, 2011 11:41:45 AM

  9. Republicans are so dumb. They don't realize that term limits will also hurt their cause eventually. Remember the big push for term limits in congress? You don't hear much about that anymore.

    Posted by: Patrick Wellington III | Dec 4, 2011 11:42:16 AM

  10. Rick Perry's opinions about anything are no longer of consequence. The man has become a punchline due to his obvious intellectual deficiencies. The only skill he has is at making George W. Bush look smart in comparison. No more coverage of this simpleton, please.

    Posted by: Seattle Mike | Dec 4, 2011 11:58:27 AM

  11. This is one time I actually agree with this idiot. I would love nothing more than to see the likes of Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts all go out the door during Obama or any other Democrat's tenure in the White House.

    Posted by: NY2.0 | Dec 4, 2011 12:12:33 PM

  12. Term limits would only politicize the role of Supreme Court justice all the more. Imagine the lining up -- years in advance -- of judges and petty and twisted decisions made in lower courts in order to curry favor for a position automatically made empty by a term limit. (This already happens de facto when judges turns 80 years old or so.) That would be a catastrophe.

    As much as we don't like this when it doesnt go our way (with judges like Clarence Thomas), it would be far worse. The Founding Fathers were not idiots when they instilled this rule.

    Posted by: Gregoire | Dec 4, 2011 12:23:53 PM

  13. Indeed. Perhaps a term limit of say, an odd number, like 11 or 13 years, just to make sure it doesn't coincide with any political campaign. I would agree with that only because people now live far longer than they did 200+ years ago.

    Otherwise, it's pretty clear to anyone in even the 5th grade, that Rick Perry doesn't know much about the Constitution or how the US government works. He's a fool and the entire nation is well-aware of that now.

    Posted by: Scott | Dec 4, 2011 2:00:22 PM

  14. I wonder if he'd be happy if everyone had arms from bears?

    Posted by: Alpha | Dec 4, 2011 2:08:49 PM

  15. "When facism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."

    Sinclair Lewis 1935

    sounds like facism may have arrived.

    Posted by: lk | Dec 4, 2011 2:19:31 PM

  16. Perry is a moron for sure, but this post is nonsensical.

    Perry is saying to read what the constitution says. Amending the constitution means that it will then say whatever the amendment added or subtracted. It's not an inconsistent position whatsoever.

    Perhaps Brandon should study up on the Constitution before attacking others' views on it. Just a suggestion.

    Posted by: Jack | Dec 4, 2011 3:48:14 PM

  17. Far be it from me to defend Rick Perry, but...

    Conservatives don't believe that the constitution is sacrosanct or that it should never be changed. In fact, a lot of them advocate a great many amendments (about marriage, abortion, flag burning, balanced budgets, and a million other rediculous things).

    What they believe is that the constitution is the foundational document for our government and that it is illegitimate for the government to do things that are not authorized by the constitution. If you want the constitution to say something that it doesn't clearly say and that the people who wrote it cleary didn't understand it to say, then you should amend the document to say what you want.

    There is nothing inconsistent about believing both (i) the constitution is the law of the land, that it is intentionally brief and limited, and that one shouldn't read into it things that aren't there and (ii) the constitution should be changed.

    Conservatives believe a lot of dangerous and silly things, you should criticize them for the things they actually advocate, instead of criticizing them for things they don't actually believe.

    Posted by: Charlie | Dec 4, 2011 4:01:52 PM

  18. ok strict constructionist reading

    socialist "...provide for the general welfare,.." in the preamble

    no gun ownership for non state militia members per amendment 2 which specifically states for " A well regulated militia..."

    no fillibusters allowed since no fillibuster is even contemplated in any way in the constitution. It is a non-constitutional senatorial procedure

    etc etc ad infinitum


    Anyway; the founders were fools. Semi-more enlightened fools than many of their time but fools none the less. They ran around in wigs and stockings. George Washington blood letted 1 quart of blood to cure a sore throat(it killed him by the way) while any 5 year old in the modern era knows you do not slice yourself and bleed out a quart of blood to cure anything.

    etc etc ad infinitum

    He should just head back to texas anyway. he is in 4th place now in Iowa. Newt #1 Paul #2 Romney #3 and perry in 4th. It is over for him

    Posted by: say what | Dec 4, 2011 4:03:05 PM

  19. I'm just a law school dropout, but at least to me it seems clear that the Texan is contradicting himself. If he's offended when he sees justices interpreting the constitution with insufficient reverence for the founders intentions, he must get REALLY po'd when someone wants to rewrite a part of it. Unless that someone is him. Then, Rick thinks it's groovy.

    Posted by: StevieFromOregon | Dec 4, 2011 4:16:36 PM

  20. The founders never intended for women to vote. Rick should adhere to that notion if he's going to be serious.

    Posted by: jason | Dec 4, 2011 4:31:46 PM

  21. @SteviefromOregon:

    Probably a good thing you dropped out. It's not contradictory at all to say that you shouldn't read things into the language of the constitution that aren't there (whether you agree with that or not), and at the same time be in favor of amending the Constitution to change something else, *a process provided for in the Constitution itself*.


    A lawyer who stuck it out

    Posted by: Jack | Dec 4, 2011 4:50:24 PM

  22. The only problem with thr "strict constructionist" viewpoint is that the founders never said anything about strict construction - so a true strict constructionist has to keep his mouth shut on how to construe the Constitution.

    Posted by: rjwalker | Dec 4, 2011 5:14:03 PM

  23. He sees judges as "legislators in robes," unless they support his political ideas (such as they are), then they become "strict constructionists." Typical.

    But, he ain't gonna make out of TX, so whatever his handlers coached him to say about the constitution is as important as his belief that the voting age is 21.

    It will be nice when the fake Republican presidential candidates start dropping so the media can stop wasting space on them.

    Posted by: Ernie | Dec 4, 2011 7:12:36 PM

  24. @Jack: You wrote:

    There is nothing inconsistent about believing both (i) the constitution is the law of the land, that it is intentionally brief and limited, and that one shouldn't read into it things that aren't there and (ii) the constitution should be changed.
    There is actually something incredibly inconsistent in (i) itself, never mind (ii). It is intentionally brief and limited yet it was meant to to be the framework of a nation and at the same time there is no room for interpretation? That's nonsensical and would actually render the document useless. In that case, they should have just put an expiration date on it. The Constitution was written in an intentionally vague manner that would require interpretation. The vagaries were not an accident. You might recall that one of the great debates among the framers, particularly between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, occurred over the addition of the Bill of Rights. There was concern that its specificity would be dangerous to the polity. I would think a lawyer might know that. Heck, you get this in Poli Sci 101.

    Most of what conservatives call "legislating from the bench" is merely interpretation of the Constitution which sometimes entails judging whether a piece of legislation comports with the spirit of the Constitution or not. The document itself is not a decision-making machine - you can't read a dilemma into it and just wait for a result. It's a living document. It is not scripture. There's no deity to pray to for an answer. There is just the Court.

    Posted by: RyanInSacto | Dec 4, 2011 8:06:12 PM

  25. I am completely against setting term limits on justices. It would be giving too much power to the party of the current president. I would be in favor of an amendment that requires any judge to renounce all political ties. Judges are suppose to be interpreting law for what is best for the country, not their political affiliation. If you have a judge that strongly believes in what its party stands for, it will not be good for the country.

    Posted by: Garst | Dec 5, 2011 12:59:42 AM

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