Republican presidential prospect Marion G. (Pat) Robertson said yesterday that "a Supreme Court ruling is not the law," and neither Congress nor the president has a duty to obey judicial rulings with which they disagree.
The Virginia Beach television evangelist, who said he will decide on a formal declaration of candidacy for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination in mid-September, said that all public officials "are bound to support the Constitution as they see it," but asserted that the Founding Fathers never intended the Supreme Court to be "paramount over the other two branches."
Robertson, a graduate of Yale Law School, made his comments in an interview with reporters and editors of The Washington Post. His interpretation appeared to be at odds with a line of decisions, extending back 183 years, in which the Supreme Court has asserted the power to declare acts of Congress and presidential decisions unconstitutional. But Robertson, who came to the meeting with a notebook of pertinent quotations, cited statements by Andrew Jackson and James Madison in support of his position.
The head of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of the popular "700 Club" television show was asked about his readiness as president to uphold the Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, to which he is vehemently opposed. The questioner referred to the controlling case upholding a right to abortion, Roe v. Wade, as "the law of the United States."
"I take issue with your premise," Robertson replied. "A Supreme Court ruling is not the law of the United States. The law of the United States is the Constitution, treaties made in accordance with the Constitution and laws duly enacted by the Congress and signed by the president. And any of those things I would uphold totally with all my strength, whether I agreed with them or not."
"I think Roe v. Wade is based on very faulty law," he said. "It had no precedent to it whatsoever . . . . Abortion is a state matter." Robertson said he would not seek to overturn the decision by executive order "because you don't have the power," but left the impression that he would not feel bound to enforce it either.
He quoted Andrew Jackson as saying: "The court, the Congress and the executive must each be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution . . . . The opinion of the court has no more power over Congress than . . . Congress has over the court."
Asserting again that Supreme Court decisions "are not the law," Robertson said that as a private citizen today, "I am bound by the laws of the United States and all 50 states . . . but I am not bound by any case or any court to which I myself am not a party."
He said he would enforce the Supreme Court's 1954 basic school desegregation ruling because it was an "appropriate" interpretation of the Constitution. "No question they ruled correctly," Robertson said.
But as a general proposition, he added, "I am concerned, as I think millions of others are, when those justices say 'the Constitution is what we say it is.' I trust the people and I trust the people's representatives . . . and I don't think the Constitution reposited in five people, who are often governed by the shifts of politics, the total domination of this society. I think that is a mistake. I don't think the Congress of the United States is subservient to the courts . . . . They can ignore a Supreme Court ruling if they so choose."
The Supreme Court asserted its power to overturn acts of Congress in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case, in which Chief Justice John Marshall said, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." Under that doctrine, the Supreme Court has struck down more than 100 laws and has ruled a variety of executive decisions invalid as violating the Constitution. Justice Marshall based his Marbury v. Madison decision in part on provisions of the Constitution that say that the power of the federal judiciary "shall extend to all cases . . . arising under this Constitution," and that the Constitution represents "the supreme law of the land."
Robertson said that he believed the original assertion of judicial review was "very limited . . . a very small concept, but over the years it's been run to excess."