Impeach Kagan! The Rage of the Tea Party

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 28 2012 11:49 AM

Impeach Kagan! The Rage of the Tea Party

photo (50)

"For the first time in my life as a talk show host," sighed Rusty Humphries, "I don't know what to say."

The Tea Party movement, roughly defined, had been showing up at the Supreme Court all week. Longer, actually. On the days around the oral arguments, Tea Party groups—Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity—held rallies on the Hill, asking the court to do what the founders would have wanted. On Monday, when there seemed like a 50/50 shot of a decision, I chatted with the latest wave of Tea Party activists who'd flown in from Texas, California, and Georgia. Reporters called on their expertise. They were ready for it.

"I've been on Chris Matthews 14 times," Brian Phillips of the Dallas Tea Party told me then, after I asked some questions about what could replace a mandate. "I've been to this rodeo before."

But none of these people expected a 5-4 decision to uphold the law and to be written by John Roberts. Today, the microphone that had been set up for Tea Parties enabled an extremely depressing kind of poetry slam, with activists and members of Congress, who'd been to so many rallies like this, working out their opinions in real time.

"I'm not going to pay this unconstitutional tax!" said one activist (I missed the name as I arrived). "IRS, if you're listening, you can come here and arrest me now."

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, one of the most raw-tongued members of the House, waited patiently as Rev. Rob Schenk finished a long series of appeals to heaven.

"I am a servent from East Texas," Gohmert said.

"You're an idiot from East Texas!" howled one of the victory-lapping liberal protesters.

"I forgive those who express their ignorance, some of those who do not understand what this opinion means," he said, offering an olive branch. They didn't understand that the court, by saying that the mandate was actually a tax, had called out the Obama administration for lying. "When in the course of human events it becomes clear that you have people who will not follow the law, it's time to use orderly methods, set forward in the Constitution, to remove them from their offices and get people who will abide by their oaths! Who will not have the Supreme Court saying, 'Of course they're liars! We know they're lying!' If America doesn't wake up and replace all the people who lied to them to get this bill passed, then shame on us!"

Orderly methods? The next congressman at the mic went out of his way to cool that down. "I'm bitterly disappointed in the decision," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. "Now, I didn't hear all the remarks of my colleague Louie Gohmert from Texas, whom I agree with 99 percent of the time. But I'm not going to stand here and say, 'I'm ready to call for the impeachment of Chief Justice Roberts based on this decision.' I know some of you may agree with that, and I understand the angst and the anger, but let me just say this: They don't call it the Supreme Court because it's not supreme. They make some wrong decisions, just like Chief Justice Warren Burger did in 1973."

You can't really cool down Louie Gohmert, though. Reporters from ThinkProgress collared him immediately after the speech, capturing a rant that attracted more reporters. "I think it's important to look at Justice Kagan for potential impeachment."

Click went the tape recorders. Gohmert held court for a while, feeding the story. The "Kagan-has-violated-her-oath" theory had been in wide circulation a few months ago, when there was a doomed Tea Party/conservative campaign to shame the former soliciter general into recusal. Had she recused herself, a 4-4 split decision might—might!—have allowed a lower court's shellacking of Obamacare to stand. Instead, she'd been allowed to vote, and John Roberts had sold out the Constitution. Tea Party pressure hadn't been enough to stop the bill from passing. Tea Party activism can help elect more Republicans in November and pressure them next year for a new repeal vote. In the meantime, there's going to be some serious venting.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.