Mike Huckabee’s civics lesson during last night’s debate was anything but

Fifteen Republicans had five hours on CNN last night to talk. As one could imagine, they got a whole lot wrong. But Mike Huckabee’s defense of Kim Davis, particularly his understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, is worth unpacking.

Here’s the video:

As Huckabee said:

I thought that everybody here passed 9th grade civics. The courts cannot legislate. It’s what Roberts said. But heck, it’s what we learned in civics. The courts can’t make a law. They can interpret one; they can review one. They can’t implement it. They can’t enforce it. But here’s what happened: Because the courts just decided that something was going to be, and people relinquished it, and the other two branches of government sat by silently. I thought we had three branches of government. They were all equal to each other. We have separation of powers, and we have checks and balances. If the court can just make a decision and we all surrender to it, we have what Jefferson said was judicial tyranny.

Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and the rest of the God Squad have had a lot of offensive takes on marriage equality, but this one’s special. Not for its defense of a fundamentally hateful position (they’ve said worse), but for its monumental irony. If you lead off with a reference to civics class, you had damn well better get your civics lesson right.

To be clear, Huckabee is correct to say that the courts can’t legislate. And if that’s what happened in Obergefell, it’d be a bit of a problem. But of course, that isn’t what happened. Instead, the Obergefell case played out exactly as Huckabee said it should. The Supreme Court didn’t write a new law; they interpreted existing laws — state-level bans on same-sex marriage — and found that they were, in constitutional terms, bullshit. It was checks and balances, separation of powers and federalism working together to do exactly what Huckabee said they were supposed to do. They just didn’t rule his way.

And as we learned in civics class, sometimes that happens in a democracy. You don’t always get to win, even if you’re straight, white and Christian.

It’s also worth noting that Ted Cruz made a similar mistake at another point during the debate when he said that had he been allowed to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who wasn’t named John Roberts, “the marriage laws of all 50 states would be on the books.” Setting aside for the moment that Roberts dissented in Obergefell, so a Cruz replacement wouldn’t have been able to do much better in preventing the ruling, there weren’t 50 state marriage laws. There were, at any given time, 31 states with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

And they all violated the Constitution.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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32 Responses to “Mike Huckabee’s civics lesson during last night’s debate was anything but”

  1. Sam says:

    Where are the aliens? They need to come and get Huckerbee. The man is so much out of touch that it is ridiculous that he was aiding and abetting a defiant court clerk to disobey the law. And he said he is running for president. Isn’t it the duty of the president to uphold the law and defend the constitution of the US? The man needs help and struggling to get free press coverage. What a shame..

  2. LanceThruster says:

    The Huckster is a festering boil on the buttocks of humanity. Really cannot stand him in any way, shape, or form.

  3. BeccaM says:

    “Mavis” is a wingnut troll. You should see the comment history.

  4. SkippyFlipjack says:

    You make a good point. Generalizations are never absolute. I know lots of straight, white Christians who absolutely believe in gay marriage and think Huckabee’s an ass. So yes, there are straight white Christians who are on the right side of the issue, just as, like you say, there are plenty of straight black Christians who are on the wrong side of it.

  5. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I take it that you have a complete list of all African American Christians saying that they agree with you. They only have to sign it, it doesn’t need to be notarized. Apparently, you must feel that evangelicals are the only true Christians. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Can you say hubris?” I would think that such a good Christian as you would know to capitalize The Bible.

    I would like for you to explain how Jon’s words were racist. If there was any racism there, it was racist against white people. You stretched that line of thinking to the point where it broke.

  6. BeccaM says:

    No, you may not.

  7. Mavis Johnson says:

    Might I remind you that the sanctified work of MARTIN LUTHER KING JR was a Christian movement. So cut out the crap. MLK with Black Americans stood on Christian principles to gain our rights. Not Christian privilege. Sometimes laws break the laws of God and that is when we Evangelicals rise up. Just like MLK!

  8. Mavis Johnson says:

    Hey Jon Green, since you claim to know it all and stand in judgment of Huckabee, here’s a lesson in racial equality for YOU: you said “if you’re straight, white and Christian?” This ain’t a race issue! I’m here to tell you that Black American Evangelicals, as you mockingly call “the God Squad,” don’t agree with marrying homosexuals either. Obviously you don’t even recognize your own racism and ignorance. The bible and God’s Laws are NOT a “white thing” nor a race issue. And if you’re going to discuss Evangelical Christians don’t leave Black Americans out of the Evangelical discussion. We are Evangelical Christians! Your own racism clearly shows and I just had to call ya on it. Do correct your words in the future, otherwise all you’re putting out lies and PROPAGANDA.

  9. Badgerite says:

    The laws of the United States must comply with the 14th Amendment which contains the Equal Protection Clause which guarantees equal protection of the laws to all citizenry. All the states had to do was come up with a legitimate state interest that the bans on same sex marriage would further.
    In case after case in the lower courts, they could not do this. They could not do this because the bans are not based on policy but instead are based on religious beliefs and prejudices against a segment of the population who are citizens, after all. . We are a republic. Not a theocracy. I think Huckabee’s only real problem with Iran is that they aren’t Christian. Otherwise that is exactly the kind of ‘democracy’ that he would like to see here. A theocracy. You cannot enforce your own religious beliefs via the laws. That is establishing a state religion. I know that is what Huckabee would like. But if you look at the Middle East I think one could safely say that that is not what America needs or wants. We are a republic and we must remain one.
    You must practice your religion in your life and in your church. You do not get to impose your beliefs on others through governmental power.

  10. Jet Gardner says:

    Obviously Huckabee isn’t smarter than a 5th Grader.

  11. Jet Gardner says:

    What happens when the wars begin over who is the “only true” spokesman for God?

  12. Don Chandler says:

    You’re going to do well under a Lindsey Graham administration.

  13. Indigo says:

    Those lies and the kind of financial and social pressure that go with the billionaire enablers who encourage them are the sum total of the Christian Privilege movement. The ignorance Huckabee displays is essential to keeping that charade going. I’m not optimistic about this season of political clowning, the media has embraced it too warmly. Maybe it’s the advertisers that want this charade, it’s a blank page for them to push products. I didn’t follow the evening tirade but maybe I will follow the next one, make a list of the advertisers, and advocate boycotting the whole damn bunch of ’em.

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    The right wing Republican clown car is lame, inept and depends on lies and personal attacks. In that they’re just like Democrats.

  15. Butch1 says:

    Yes! Which is probably why I do not like clowns even today. (I loved that book, by the way!)

  16. BeccaM says:

    These ones are like the clown from Stephen King’s “IT”.

  17. Butch1 says:

    It would have been much more entertaining if they all would have had face paint on with orange wigs and big red noses where they could squirt selzer bottles at each other and honk their ooga horns and whistles when they wanted. THAT would have probably helped and perhaps I would have even watch it.

  18. BeccaM says:

    It didn’t. Be grateful you didn’t lose that hour of your life.

    I, on the other hand, consumed large quantities of scotch, listening along with whatever the heck the Rude Pundit was drinking.

  19. Butch1 says:

    That is what is so depressing about this: one of them could be running this country.

  20. fry1laurie says:

    Great for cooking.

  21. Butch1 says:

    I cannot watch their lies, name calling and mud-slinging. Junior-Varsity is correct and they are a waste of my time.

  22. texcynical says:

    Them is some big words. Could you dumb it down a little?

  23. texcynical says:

    Cream of the demented crap.

  24. BeccaM says:

    Yeah, but y’know what? It fits right in with the current GOPer authoritarian view of governance. If it’s named ‘The Roberts Court’, to the average Republican that must mean Roberts could’ve overridden any ruling to make it go a different way. Or, I don’t know, shot a couple of the dissenters until a majority ruled the way the radical right wanted.

    It follows the preferred governing philosophy of their presidential candidates, too: Every one of them has asserted positions that are either gross abuses of power, autocratic edicts, or simply ignore the existence of the Legislative and Judicial branches whenever expedient.

  25. BeccaM says:

    Across the Rickverse, there’s a sane version of reality in which that’s exactly what happened.

    Sadly, that isn’t our version…

  26. BeccaM says:

    Oh Jon, don’t you realize that when the Supreme Court makes a decision that goes the way the Christianists want, it’s perfect and fine — such as the Hobby Lobby ruling, which took the RFRA and applied it in ways it was never meant to be? Or how the Court somehow has managed for more than half a century to ignore the obvious violation of the 1st Amendment inherent in the endorsement of monotheistic religious beliefs over all others (or none) in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ on all U.S. currency?

    It comes back to Christian privilege, as you’ve been pointing out the last few days. They conflate any limitations or reduction of that privileged position over all other faiths (or none) with a violation of their God-given (and I used that phrase deliberately) rights.

    Last night was nothing but a barrage of lies and ignorance….which is pretty much what the GOP base expects and feeds upon, exclusively.

  27. Quilla says:


  28. Quilla says:

    I lasted almost 2 hours (Bernie Sanders turned it off at the 2-1/2 hour mark).

    Never heard a serious discussion of “issues” that are important to some of us when the questions asked by the Jake Trapper Band boiled down to “he said, she said, and what do you have to say about that.”

    Maybe the 3rd hour produced substance…Bernie and I will never know.

  29. nicho says:

    You have to remember that these people are the cream of their demented crop. The people to whom they are speaking are dumber and crazier than they are. So, none of them will suffer from this bizarre nonsense.

  30. gratuitous says:

    I didn’t watch, but how badly did every other candidate on the dais savage Huckabee for his ignorant statements? I’ll bet the moderator came down on him like a ton of bricks for being so clearly and demonstrably wrong, huh? The audience pelted Huckabee with rotten fruit and vegetables and briefly threatened to rush the stage for his staggering incompetence, didn’t they?

  31. 2karmanot says:

    The Republican clown debate was probably one of the most painful and nauseating examples of perfidy imaginable in a nadir of politics that seems to have an infinite bottom of sewer. The only exception was Kasich. Most troubling to me was soft spoken Ben Carson, who appeared mentally disturbed as he politely suggested an immigration policy that sounded very close to the indentured servitude of the 19th century—-workers with work permits and absolutely no rights or protections, including no minimum wage limits.

  32. iamlegion says:

    Roberts dissented in Obergefell, so a Cruz replacement wouldn’t have been able to do much better in preventing the ruling

    I think this is something that needs to be called out louder… Even before you get to how uneducated he & Huckster are – both former state Governors I would point out – he doesn’t even realize Roberts was _on his side_ in that decision.

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