Politico yesterday ran an op-ed from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in which he criticized President Obama’s statement cautioning against cases where “an unelected group of people . . . somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” According to Smith, “the president’s comments reveal a fundamental lack of respect for the judicial branch.”
Hitting President Obama for questioning the wisdom of judicial activism is especially bold for Rep. Smith, who one year ago this week said almost the exact same thing about marriage equality: “Who in our system of government has the power to decide fundamental questions like what marriage means; unelected judges, or the people?” Nor was this the first nor last instance of Smith engaging in the very same attacks on the courts that he accuses President Obama of:
On Marriage Equality: Immediately after a federal judge in California ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional in August 2010, Smith issued a statement attacking him for failing to remain impartial — claiming that “Judge Walker’s ruling places personal political ideology above the right of the people to pass laws.” And then last year, after President Obama announced that his administration would no longer seek to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, Smith lambasted judicial activism during a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution.
On Religion: Smith, along with two other House Republicans, was the driving force behind two amendments passed in 2003 that specifically forbade the enforcement of the ruling of a federal circuit court. A working group was co-created by Smith to “once and for all reassert [the] authority of Congress, and remind the judiciary of who they are, as outlined in the Constitution.”
On Judicial Activism of Any Kind: “Judges continue to substitute their own political views for the law, and we must push back,” Rep. Smith told attendees of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration conference in 2005.
It’s unclear what in the last few weeks has led Rep. Smith to fully embrace the authority of the courts after years of threatening to defund the enforcement of their rulings, alleging misconduct and using every opportunity to invoke “judicial activism” as the greatest threat to our democracy. And Rep. Smith was equally unperturbed when Republican presidents George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon all criticized the judiciary during their administrations.