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Santorum: Abolish courts that are too powerful

Santorum greets supporters after giving his speech at the Stoney Creek Inn on January 3, 2012 in Johnston, Iowa. Mitt Romney bested Santorum by just eight votes in the Iowa caucuses.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

NORTHFIELD, N.H. - Taking a page from rival Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Thursday leveled tough criticism at the judiciary, saying judges have become too powerful and that as president he would do away with some courts.

Speaking to a crowd of 200 at a town hall at Merrimack Valley Railroad, Santorum said the courts needs to be reined in. "The third branch of government is in fact too powerful in the structure of government today with respect to checks and balances," Santorum said. "They have become a super legislature. They have become in effect most powerful of the three (branches of government), and they should be the least."

Some courts, he said, can be abolished. "What the Congress creates, it can uncreate," Santorum said.

While Santorum said he thinks Gingrich has gone a "step too far" by suggesting that judges can be forced to come before Congress to explain their rulings, he also made clear that his own views are still fairly far to the right on the Republican mainstream. Most Republicans, while critical of judges who deviate from the Constitution, have not advocated punishing courts by abolishing them. Most also recognize the basic tenet of American government that the three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - share power equally.

If elected president, Santorum said, he would appoint originalist judges who will attempt to follow the original intent of the constitutional provisions. "Five people who are not accountable to the American public should not be able to change the Constitution," Santorum said of the Supreme Court's process of ruling by a majority of nine. "Don't short-circuit the process."

Full CBS News coverage: Rick Santorum

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    Naureen Khan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.