WASHINGTON – Comments made by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after the death of Terri Schiavo may have violated a federal statute, a senior Senate Democrat said Friday.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., sent a sharply worded letter to DeLay saying the majority leader’s comments amounted to unlawful threats against the federal judges who consistently ruled against Schiavo’s parents in their legal battle to keep their severely brain-damaged daughter alive.
“Threats against specific federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a member of Congress,” Lautenberg said in a news release accompanying a copy of the letter.
Lautenberg was reacting to a statement in which DeLay, R-Texas, called Schiavo’s death “a moral poverty and a legal tragedy” and said, “This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.”
DeLay and his spokesman later indicated that the remarks referred to future legislative action by Congress, not an act of violence.
Dan Allen, a spokesman for DeLay, dismissed Lautenberg’s letter as a partisan political attack.
“Objective observers know Congressman DeLay was once again expressing his disappointment in how the courts clearly ignored the intent of the legislation that was passed to save Terri Schiavo’s life,” Allen said. “To suggest otherwise is simply obscene.”
It is doubtful DeLay’s ambiguous statement would qualify as one of the 700 explicit threats against federal judges logged each year by the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for court security.
Nevertheless, liberal Internet blogs were filled Friday with warnings about the intentions of DeLay and other conservatives.
“DeLay’s vague threat against judges yesterday wasn’t just offensive, it was dangerous, especially given the serious threats against judges and others involved in the Schiavo case,” wrote the authors of an article that appeared on “The Progress Report,” an Internet publication of the liberal American Progress Action Fund.
Death threats against Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer, who ordered Schiavo’s feeding tube removed, increased as the case gained national attention. The judge is now under 24-hour protection by two U.S. marshals, according to news reports.
Just how many of DeLay’s colleagues agree with his views isn’t known yet. Congress returns next week from a two-week spring recess.
Heated criticism of judges during the Schiavo ordeal prompted the American Bar Association to take a position.
“There is no need for personal attacks on the judges in this case. They are not killers as some have called them, nor are they activists bent on pushing an ideological agenda,” the bar association said in a statement. “They are simply dedicated public servants called on to serve as impartial arbiters in a very difficult case.”
Rhetoric from anti-abortion activists fueled concerns that judges were in danger.
Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, repeatedly challenged state and federal judges involved in the case. In a letter to the Florida legislature, Terry equated the rulings of Greer and other judges in the Schiavo case to decrees issued by Nazi leaders.