- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says he wasn’t threatening judges when he said they should be held accountable for their actions in the Terri Schiavo case, but instead was predicting a course of action for congressional oversight.

The Texas Republican led the fight in Congress for a full federal court review of the case of the brain-damaged Mrs. Schiavo, who a Florida court ruled would have wanted her feeding tube removed. The day she died, Mr. DeLay said, “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Mr. DeLay’s statement has become a lightning rod for Democratic leaders.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, sent Mr. DeLay a letter arguing he might even have broken federal law if his remarks were considered a threat.

In a letter back to Mr. Lautenberg, dated April 6 and obtained yesterday by The Washington Times, Mr. DeLay said Mr. Lautenberg “misinterpreted” him.

“Mischaracterizing a call for the judiciary to publicly explain its reasons for taking an innocent woman’s life as threatening to ‘our fundamental democracy’ reveals either ignorance of or contempt for the framework of checks and balances that makes our constitutional republic possible,” Mr. DeLay wrote.

But Mr. Lautenberg, in a statement yesterday, said Mr. DeLay has a history of threatening impeachment of judges and was quoted in 1997 as saying judges needed “to be intimidated” to uphold the Constitution.

“If there is any question about what Majority Leader DeLay meant in his statement, one only needs to look at his history,” Mr. Lautenberg said.

Asked yesterday about Mr. DeLay’s desire to hold judges accountable, President Bush did not respond directly, instead saying he believes “in an independent judiciary. I believe in proper checks and balances.”

Mr. DeLay is not alone in wanting to rein in courts. The House last year passed two bills to limit federal court jurisdiction — one to restrict hearing challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance, and another to restrict challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Schiavo case is the latest flash point.

Congress also passed a bill intending for Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube to be reattached while the federal courts made a full review of her case. Instead, the court’s review lasted less than a day — far less scrutiny than Congress intended, Mr. DeLay said.

The House also issued subpoenas for Mrs. Schiavo, which Republican leaders said should have meant her feeding tube could not be disconnected.

Mr. DeLay told Mr. Lautenberg the courts need to explain why they ignored both the subpoena and the intent of the law.

“The judiciary, like the executive, is independent of Congress, but at the same time subject to congressional oversight,” he said. “If Congress believes a woman’s constitutional rights were denied, we have not only a right but an obligation to get some answers from the people responsible.”

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