Part II: DeLay's Judge Dread

Read Part I: DeLay's Axis of Influence
Read Part III: DeLay's Godfather
Read Part IV: DeLay's Unregulated Pacific "Paradise"


When DeLay and other pro-deregulation members of Congress were able to pass measures that weakened regulatory oversight for corporate constituents federal judges often thwarted their efforts. When the safety of workers, pension funds or the environment are at risk, courts more often than not come down on the side of sensible government regulations.

The threat posed by the Judiciary branch's independence from the Legislative branch quickly became another front in Tom DeLay's deregulatory jihad. When asked by a reporter why he was so riled up at federal judges DeLay explained, "I woke up one day realizing that the judiciary had turned themselves into a regulatory branch."

The first concerted assault on the courts came when the GOP took control of the House in 1994. DeLay became a fervent supporter of litigation reforms that would ultimately strip shareholders of many of their rights to sue company executives, like Enron's Kenneth Lay.

But DeLay's big stick approach to bringing the judiciary to heel came in 1997. Citing a Supreme Court order forcing the Virginia Military Institute to admit women, DeLay alleged federal judges were exceeding their constitutional authority and it was up to the legislature to rein them in. "We can impeach judges who get drunk," DeLay said at the time, "so why not impeach those who get drunk with power?"

Why not? Well, for starters, the Constitution does not allow the impeachment of judges simply because someone disagrees with their verdicts:

    "No serious student of the impeachment provisions can conclude that the Constitution of the United States contemplates impeachment of judges on account of their actual decisions from the bench -- their interpretations or their rulings." (Constitutional scholar Terry Eastland.)


But this was not a strict constitutional scholar talking. This was "The Hammer," whose solution to an uncooperative, independent judiciary was to intimidate federal judges with threats.

DeLay rejected the idea that the Constitution limits impeachment of federal judges to "high crimes and misdemeanors," the same standard required to impeach a President. Instead, DeLay argued, whenever a judge ruled in ways that "usurped the powers of Congress," he or she should face impeachment. What DeLay was suggesting was a coup d'├ętat by members of Legislative Branch against members of the Judicial Branch. It was precisely the kind of politically motivated intimidation of the judiciary that America's Founding Fathers wished to avoid by putting the judiciary safely outside the political arena.

DeLay's position was closer to one put forth three decades earlier when Rep. Gerald Ford was trying to get Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas impeached for being too liberal. Back then Ford defended his position this way: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at any given moment of history."

It took the legal wrangling in Florida during the 2000 Presidential race to reveal that DeLay's outrage over judicial activism had its limits. When the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Gore campaign for a hand recount of contested ballots, DeLay roared that the court had "squandered and violated the trust of the people of Florida in trying to manipulate the results of a fair election." And he vowed, "This judicial aggression must not stand."

But, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida court's ruling, handing the victory to Republican George W. Bush in one of the Court's most controversial rulings in history, DeLay expressed pleasure with the ruling.

Some among the imperial judiciary appear more equal than others, in DeLay's view.

It was a double standard that exposed DeLay's anti-judiciary campaign as little more than a naked attempt to weaken the Constitutional independence of the Judicial Branch and replace it with a cowed judiciary more compliant to the wishes and actions of politically driven legislators.

Since "intimating judges" in order to influence their judgments is a crime, DeLay's self-stated goal of doing so might itself have been grounds for impeachment -- his own.

Read Part I: DeLay's Axis of Influence
Read Part III: DeLay's Godfather
Read Part IV: DeLay's Unregulated Pacific "Paradise"


Investigative journalist Stephen Pizzo's bestselling book, "Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans," is now available as an ebook.
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