House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), under fire from Democrats for what they consider threatening remarks about federal judges, plans to ask the Judiciary Committee to undertake a broad review of the courts' handing of the Terri Schiavo case, his office said yesterday.
DeLay's office did not specify exactly what the majority leader wants the committee to do. The Constitution gives Congress the power to set the areas of authority for federal courts, but it was unclear what could be done by the committee in response to the Schiavo case, in particular.
The majority leader said Thursday he wants to examine what he called the "failure" of state and federal courts to protect Schiavo, who died 13 days after the court-ordered withdrawal of her feeding tube.
DeLay issued a statement asserting that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." He later said in front of television cameras that he wants to "look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."
Democrats continued to criticize DeLay yesterday, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) charging that the Republican might have broken a federal statute against threatening U.S. judges.
"Threats against specific federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a Member of Congress," Lautenberg wrote. "Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well."
DeLay's comments reflected the frustration and anger that some conservatives say they felt when no judge or justice was willing to act in response to congressional legislation, which President Bush flew home from Texas to sign last week, calling on the federal courts to review the case, which has been handled by Florida courts.
The Senate confirmed about 200 of Bush's judicial nominees during the past four years, and most of them were considered to be conservative. Nonetheless, DeLay and many other conservatives say they feel betrayed by the courts in the Schiavo case.
DeLay told Fox News interviewer Brit Hume on Thursday that there are "a lot of questions that need to be answered."
"We need to look at this case," DeLay continued. "We need to look at the failure of the judiciary in Florida. We need to look at the failure of the judiciary on the federal level."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Thursday that "at a time when emotions are running high, Mr. DeLay needs to make clear that he is not advocating violence against anyone."
Dan Allen, DeLay's communications director, said that DeLay was "once again expressing his disappointment in how the courts clearly ignored the intent of the legislation that was passed."