Politics & Government

At Winthrop event, Mike Huckabee criticizes ‘judicial tyranny’

GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, left, spoke at a Winthrop University forum on the Constitution and the Supreme Court on Thursday along with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, left, spoke at a Winthrop University forum on the Constitution and the Supreme Court on Thursday along with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. aburriss@heraldonline.com

The American legal system may be in for some changes if Mike Huckabee makes it to the White House.

The GOP presidential hopeful called into question the enforceability of Supreme Court rulings during an appearance at Winthrop University on Thursday, arguing that broad court rulings that overturn duly passed laws stretch the bounds of the Constitution, are an example of “judicial tyranny,” and go unchallenged by “cowardly” executives and legislatures.

Huckabee promised a strict adherence to the original intent of the Constitution if he becomes president, and to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will do the same.

“We’ve become more interested in what some law professor says or what the court precedent has become as opposed to what the actual text of the Constitution says,” he said.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor turned Fox News TV host, promoted his views of the relationship between the president and the courts during a forum at Winthrop moderated by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. The forum focused on the Constitution and the Supreme Court and was the first of several that Wilson plans to hold with presidential hopefuls across the state ahead of the Feb. 20 GOP primary.

The next president’s opinion of the Supreme Court and its role will matter because of the impact he or she could have on the court for decades to come. A sign at the forum sponsored by the Conservative Leadership Project reminded voters that four current justices were born in the 1930s, and a majority of the Supreme Court’s seats could become vacant in the next four to eight years.

When Wilson asked Huckabee about his judicial philosophy, Huckabee mentioned Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – considered some of the court’s most reliable conservative votes – as models for his appointments to the nation’s highest court.

“People use that term to contort (the Constitution) from the original intent and purpose to fit something entirely modern,” Huckabee said. “To me, that’s like saying ‘I know what the Bible says, but the culture has shifted and we need to adjust the Bible to the culture.

“That’s like adjusting a tuning fork to an untuned piano, rather than adjusting the piano to the tuning fork.”

Huckabee told the crowd he supports Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Ky., since the Supreme Court struck down state prohibitions on same-sex marriage in June. While a federal judge sent Davis to jail for contempt of court on Thursday, Huckabee argues Davis is upholding Kentucky’s laws on marriage, which still limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and even noted Kentucky marriage licenses specify a man and a woman.

He argued that before Davis can be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Kentucky’s legislature must pass “enabling legislation” allowing the court ruling to be enforced – something more conservative legislatures would be unlikely to do.

As an example, Huckabee reached back to his time as governor, when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled the legislature was not funding local school districts in line with what the state constitution called for.

“The next day, I was not requiring the legislature to write checks and saying, ‘It’s the law of the land,’” Huckabee said. “I could only do that after (the legislature) passed a law.”

Huckabee’s stance would challenge the precedent of how the American legal system works. The Supreme Court has long exercised the ability to strike down state and federal laws that contradict the court’s reading of the Constitution, dating back to the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, and state and local officials have not been able to act contrary to federal court decisions.

At the same time, Huckabee has said as president he would take action to limit abortion, regardless of prior court decisions protecting access to the procedure, citing his interpretation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process and the 14th Amendment right to equal protection as mandates to protect the due process rights of the unborn.

“The question is, is that child a person?” Huckabee said in response to a question from the Herald. “And if it is a person, it’s entitled to constitutional protection.”

Then, he said, “the Justice Department can protect that right just like it protects yours.”

Madison Kane, an elementary education major at Winthrop, was one of several students who turned out for the midday forum on campus, and she got a chance to meet Huckabee afterward.

“I tend to be more liberal on the issues, but I wanted to take the opportunity to see him,” said Kane. “Especially being in South Carolina, we’re going to see a lot of candidates ... so it’s good how (the university) is getting out how it’s important to vote.”

The opportunity to meet the candidates is particularly important for Kane. Like many of the students who saw Huckabee, she’s still considering how she will cast her first presidential ballot in 2016.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome