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Don’t Know Much About History

By Jesse Taylor
Tuesday, December 6, 2011 0:15 EDT
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In case anyone was unaware, Newt Gingrich is a professional historian.

Well, okay, not really – he's got a PhD and was denied tenure then went around Washington D.C. generally being the sort of haughty dick who misread an article on Cracked.com and is amused by your lack of knowledge concerning what really happened to Amelia Earhart. 

He's also an ideas man, a brilliant ideas man, and is willing to take this country forward into 1915…if only we'll let him. One of his recurring ideas is to seek vengeance on federal judges by abolishing their positions, and from that point sending the clear message that he has no idea how the Constitution works.

The Judicial Reform Act of 1802 abolishe[d] 18 out of 35 federal judges. That doesn’t impeach them, it just says this court no longer exists, we are no longer going to fund it, go home. That was over half of all federal judges at that time.

… take the most bizarre of judges and simply abolish their court. Tell them to go home. Those are the kind of steps. And I think they will lead to a very substantial national debate. There is nobody who has had the temerity now for almost 60 years to stand up and say that this is absurd.

Gingrich defends this idea as "Jeffersonian", because Jefferson was behind the JRA of 1802, and people like the way "Jeffersonian" sounds. It's mellifluent. Also, it abolished 16 positions, not 18, but history's not about accuracy. It's about ideas.

Here's the problem: Gingrich wants to abolish the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The JRA of 1802 abolished judgeships within each circuit, but still kept judges on each circuit. Gingrich's suggestion of abolition isn't just a foolhardy act of political vengeance; it's very likely unconstitutional as threatened.

A basic tenet of due process and equal protection is that all citizens have equal access to whatever form of judicial adjudication the federal government makes available. By abolishing the appellate arm of the Ninth Circuit, roughly 20% of America (the population of the Ninth Circuit states) would have no effective appellate rights in the federal system. Our current system of jurisdiction and venue laws bar the sort of circuit-hopping necessary to afford Ninth Circuit residents appellate rights in other circuits (and the closest states to the Ninth are the not exactly judge-heavy Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and North and South Dakota). 

Gingrich is a poor student of history, and an even worse student of the Constitution. My suggestion: he should hire some poor ghetto children to do some research for him.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
 
 
 
 
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