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House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday blamed Terri Schiavo’s death on what he contended was a failed legal system, and he raised the possibility of trying to impeach some of the federal judges in the case. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior,” said DeLay, R-Texas. But a leading Democratic senator said DeLay’s comments were “irresponsible and reprehensible.” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said DeLay should make sure that people know he is not advocating violence against judges. DeLay, the second-ranking House GOP lawmaker, helped lead congressional efforts 10 days ago to enact legislation designed to prod the federal courts into ordering the reinsertion of Schiavo’s feeding tube. He said the courts’ refusal to do just that was a “perfect example of an out of control judiciary.” Asked about the possibility of the House’s bringing impeachment charges against judges in the Schiavo case, DeLay said, “There’s plenty of time to look into that.” President Bush expressed sympathy to Schiavo’s parents. “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 said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to join DeLay in criticizing the courts. “We would have preferred a different decision from the courts … but ultimately we have to follow our laws and abide by the courts,” McClellan said. Joining DeLay in taking issue with the judiciary was Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who said, “The actions on the part of the Florida court and the U.S. Supreme Court are unconscionable.” Also, GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said the case “saw a state judge completely ignore a congressional committees subpoena and insult its intent” and “a federal court not only reject, but deride the very law that Congress passed.” DeLay said he would make sure that the GOP-controlled House “will look at an arrogant and out of control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president.” But Kennedy said DeLay should watch his words, especially in light of the recent murder of a Georgia judge and the killing of a federal judge’s husband and mother in Chicago. Kennedy noted that judges in the Schiavo case and their families have received threats. “This case has been heartbreaking and tragic enough,” Kennedy said. “It is time for mourning and healing, not for more inflammatory rhetoric, and responsible national leaders should understand that and stop this exploitation.” The legislation passed in an emergency session of Congress and immediately signed by Bush ordered the federal courts to review the decision by a Florida judge to allow the removal of the feeding tube that kept Schiavo alive. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore refused. His ruling was twice upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene. As a House member, DeLay has no constitutional role in deciding who becomes a federal judge or whether a judge should be disciplined. The president selects the judges; senators confirm them. The federal court regulates those judges. But the GOP-controlled House can initiate impeachment proceedings on federal judges, just as they impeached President Clinton, only to have the Senate acquit him. “Congress for many years has shirked its responsibility to hold the judiciary accountable. No longer,” DeLay said. The House has impeached 11 federal judges, including former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, but the Senate has only convicted and removed seven. Chase was not convicted. The last federal judge to be removed was Alcee Hastings, in 1989; he is now a Democratic congressman from Florida. Congress does have the authority under the Constitution to limit what kind of cases the federal courts can hear. Republicans have complained for some time about what they see as an out of control federal judiciary. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Congress should pass the broad legislation that House Republicans favored in the Schiavo case but which was narrowed to cover only the Florida woman after a compromise with the White House. “Terri’s will to live should serve as an inspiration and impetus for action,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. The House bill, giving jurisdiction of the Schiavo case to the federal courts, would have applied to any case in which there were questions about withholding food or medical treatment from an incapacitated person. McClellan said the president would review such legislation if it came to him. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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