- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

Terri Schiavo’s death is expected to have major political ramifications as pro-lifers declare war on the judiciary and galvanize for the coming fight over Supreme Court vacancies.

“We will look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “We will look into that.”

The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue, lamented, “The courts of this land have become the tool, in the hands of the devil, by which the culture of death has found access.”

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh bluntly blamed the judiciary for “ordering the starvation” of Mrs. Schiavo.

The Florida woman who died yesterday after her feeding tube had been disconnected nearly two weeks earlier has become a martyr for conservatives, who planned to avenge her death by fighting to put pro-life justices on the Supreme Court as soon as vacancies arise. They also vowed to prevent the Schiavo case from becoming any kind of legal precedent.

Democrats were not relishing the prospect of open warfare against an energized, motivated pro-life movement. Yet Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, promised to mount a spirited defense against the conservatives.

“They are seeking to take away the independence of the judiciary — the crown jewel in our system of government — so that they can advance their own ideological agenda of the day,” the Massachusetts Democrat said during a speech in Boston.

“That is exactly the kind of tyranny that our ancestors fought to prevent,” he added. “And I pledge to you, that as long as I have a voice, I will continue to fight it as well.”

President Bush encouraged pro-lifers to redouble their efforts in the wake of Mrs. Schiavo’s death.

“I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life, where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others,” he told reporters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,” he added. “In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life.”

The president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said, “I hope that from this, that all of us can grow as people in terms of our appreciation for end-of-life issues.”

Other Republicans have blamed the courts for failing to follow through on Congress’ wishes, and say there is a looming clash between the legislature and the courts.

“This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change,” said Mr. DeLay. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray and we hope to God this fate never befalls another.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said the courts ignored Congress’ intent, encapsulated in a law passed in an overnight session, that Mrs. Schiavo be given “an opportunity for a new, full and fresh review in federal court of her right to receive life-sustaining treatment.”

Now, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, Congress should pass the original broader House version of legislation intended to save Mrs. Schiavo, which stalled in the Senate.

“Terri’s will to live should serve as an inspiration and impetus for action,” he said. “I am hopeful the Senate will join the House in passing the Protection of Incapacitated Persons Act to assist those whose circumstances mirror Terri Schiavo’s, and ensure others with disabilities do not receive the same treatment by our legal system.”

Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court, which repeatedly refused to take the Schiavo case, questions remain about such “persistent vegetative state” cases. One key question raised by the Schiavo matter centers on whether a distinction can be drawn between life-support machines and feeding tubes when deciding the person’s right to live or die.

Although it is unlikely, given the high court’s apparent lack of desire to delve into such matters in the past, the justices could address the question later this year when they weigh a case over a law in Oregon, the only state with a law specifically allowing assisted suicide.

In February, the court said it would hear a Bush administration challenge to Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which says doctors can help terminally ill patients commit suicide. More than 170 people have committed assisted suicide in Oregon since the state enacted the law in 1997.

In agreeing to weigh the matter, the justices said they will review a lower court ruling that bars the federal government from pressing criminal charges against doctors who prescribe overdoses to help people die more quickly.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for the high court’s next term, which begins in October.

Stephen Dinan and Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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