WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) said Tuesday that federal judges' rejection of efforts by Congress to keep Terri Schiavo (search) alive will not affect the escalating dispute between Democrats and Republicans over President Bush's judicial nominees.
"I don't associate the two issues directly," Frist told reporters.
Frist, R-Tenn., declined to join with conservatives who have complained about the federal court system in relation to the Schiavo case. "I believe we have a fair and independent judiciary today," he said.
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, saying she was severely disabled but not without hope. Her husband said she had never wanted to be kept alive artificially, and state and federal courts all sided with him.
Now, conservatives are mounting a campaign against what they call activist federal judges. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and other conservatives who advocated for Schiavo have planned a conference on Thursday and Friday called "Confronting The Judicial War On Faith" with the lawyer for Schiavo's parents.
Congress tried to stave off Schiavo's death by passing legislation ordering federal judges to reconsider her parents' plea to keep her alive, but the courts rejected the case.
Although the federal review "was not as complete as we would like," Frist said, he still thought the courts were "fair and independent."
The majority leader also said he would continue to try and compromise with Democrats to develop a plan to ensure that Bush's judicial nominees get confirmation votes on the Senate floor.
Until all negotiations fail, he said, 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," said Frist, who talks daily with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
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.