Issues of judicial jurisprudence took a surprisingly prominent position in Thursday’s GOP presidential debate, with candidates questioning how far Congress should go to rein in courts if they go too far.

Newt Gingrich, whose plan to let Congress subpoena judges whose opinions they dislike has been shot down by two of President George W. Bush’s Republican attorneys general, acknowledged his idea would shift the balance of power among the three branches of government, but said the shift was necessary to rectify previous deviations.

“It alters the balance because the courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful,” said Gingrich, who has also called for courts that are deemed to have gone rogue to be abolished.

Michele Bachmann agreed that courts had amassed too much power, and described a need to ensure that courts were adhering to the U.S. Constitution - even though the responsiblity for assessing whether laws abide by the Constitution is the usual role of the courts. She applauded voters in Iowa who recalled three of their state Supreme Court justices in 2010 after they overturned Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriages.

“Iowans decided to take their constitution back,” Bachmann said.

The role of standing up for the independence granted constitutionally to the courts fell to Ron Paul, the race’s libertarian, who said that allowing Congress to abolish courts “could open up a can of worms.”

He gave an even more dubious appraisal of Gingrich’s proposal to force judges in question to appear before Congress.

“I really, really question this idea that the Congress could subpoena judges and bring them before us,” he said. “That’s a real affront to the separation of powers.”

Mitt Romney said the proper approach for government to take when judges step out of line is to impeach them under existing law, and for Congress to write new statutes clarifying anything that they feel that courts are misinterpreting.

An attempt by the moderators of the Fox News debate to lure the candidates into naming their favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice fell flat, as most candidates praised all four conservative justices in one broad stroke.