Frist Says Courts in Schiavo Case Acted Fairly

Apr 5, 4:50 PM (ET)
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist said on Tuesday that courts had acted fairly in the Terri Schiavo "right-to-die" case, differing sharply from a vow of retribution by his House of Representatives counterpart, Tom DeLay.

"I believe we have a fair and independent judiciary today," said Frist, now trying to resolve a battle with Democrats over judicial nominations that threatens to tie his chamber into knots. "I respect that." Frist and DeLay, as the Senate and House majority leaders, had led a charge for emergency legislation calling on the federal courts to review the Schiavo case.

President Bush flew back from a Texas vacation to sign the bill into law.

But federal courts refused to intervene and let stand a Florida state court order to remove a feeding tube from the brain-damaged woman. Schiavo's husband had said she would not have wanted to live in her condition, but her parents fought against the tube's removal.

Schiavo died last week after spending 15 years in what courts had ruled was a persistent vegetative state.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, said afterward: "We will look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at the Congress and president when given jurisdiction to hear this case anew." In a written statement, DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."


Frist, asked about the furor over the case, told reporters, "I will let members (of Congress) ... speak for themselves." But the Tennessee Republican said he believed the courts "acted in a fair and independent way."

The Schiavo case was unique, Frist said. "Our bill said, 'let's let the courts take another look,"' he said.

Polls showed most Americans opposed congressional intervention, and a federal appeals court judge criticized Congress and Bush for acting "at odds" with the Constitution.

The Schiavo case has further stirred passions that have built in a more than 4-year-old battle over Bush's judicial nominees, about 200 of whom have been confirmed by the Senate.

Christian conservatives say the case underscores the need to put more conservatives on the bench. But others from across the political spectrum say the case shows an independent judiciary is needed as a check on legislative excess.

Frist said he is still trying to reach a compromise with Democrats over their use of a procedural hurdle known as a filibuster that has been used to block 10 of Bush's most controversial judicial nominees.

Frist has threatened to change Senate rules to ban filibusters if no compromise is found. Democrats have vowed to retaliate by slowing down the work of the Senate with other procedural hurdles on matters that they consider nonessential.

Republicans control the Senate, holding 55 of 100 seats. Sixty votes are needed to end a filibuster while 51 would be needed to change the rules to ban them.

It is unclear if Frist could muster 51 votes since a number of Republicans have voiced concerns such a rule change could hurt them in a future Democratic-led Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters he was pleased about Frist's comments that they were trying to find common ground.

"We have a ways to go ... but at least we're talking," said Reid, who has argued that the filibuster must be preserved as a needed tool of the chamber's minority. "I don't intend to do anything that will hurt this institution."

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