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Congressional Democrats on Tuesday said Republican criticism of the federal courts following Terri Schiavo’s death showed an “arrogancy of power” that is leading to a Senate confrontation over filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees. “If they don’t get what they want, they attack whoever’s around,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “Now they’re after the courts, and I think it goes back to this arrogancy of power.” Republicans said judges’ rejection of efforts to keep Schiavo alive was a separate issue from the dispute over the filibuster. “I don’t associate the two issues directly,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Frist and several other Senate Republicans have not joined with conservatives who have complained about the federal court system in relation to the Schiavo case. “I’m not for things that go after judges. They’re an independent branch of government. We need to respect that,” said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. But Democrats are focusing on comments by two Texas Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who gets no vote on judicial nominations since they are the purview of the Senate. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior,” DeLay said after Schiavo died last week. Cornyn, while criticizing a different judicial decision, wondered Monday if frustration against perceived political decisions by judges “builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification.” A DeLay spokesman said he was merely referring to potential future action in Congress. And Cornyn said his remarks had nothing to do with the Schiavo case or with what DeLay said. “I’m a former judge myself and I’ve made clear that attacks against judges are never justified,” said Cornyn, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But some Democrats called both comments out of bounds. “The presumption that somehow we are going to threaten judges or demand certain outcomes from judges is antithetical to a free people under law,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Schiavo died last Thursday despite attempts by President Bush, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Congress to block removal of her feeding tube. Her parents fought to keep her alive but her husband said she never wanted to be kept alive artificially. State and federal courts all sided with Michael Schiavo and refused to reconsider even after Congress ordered federal judges to reconsider pleas to keep her alive. Although the federal review “was not as complete as we would like,” Frist said, he still thought the courts were “fair and independent.” But Democrats said it all comes back to Republicans wanting things their way, including Frist’s plan to change Senate rules to stop Democrats from filibustering Bush’s nominees. “If people don’t get what they want with judges, they change the rules. I think it’s an arrogancy of power,” Reid said. Reid then praised Frist for announcing he would work with Democrats to find a way to ensure that Bush’s judicial nominees get confirmation votes, instead of pushing immediately for a ban on judicial filibusters. “We have a ways to go before we resolve this very difficult situation on the so-called nuclear option, but at least we’re talking,” Reid said. Until all negotiations fail, Frist told reporters, it’s too early to discuss whether he has the support needed to ban judicial filibusters, when he might act or which nominee he will ask senators to vote on first. “All the details are way too premature,” he said. Democrats blocked 10 of Bush’s judicial nominees with filibuster threats during Bush’s first term, and they have threatened to block more if they consider them too conservative. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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