WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) came under more fire Friday for his comments suggesting that judges who refused to further consider the Terri Schiavo (search) case could one day pay for their decisions.
The Texas Republican on Friday suggested an impeachment case could be made against judges who rebuffed Congress' will in the Schiavo case. As the severely brain-damaged Florida woman faded, Congress passed a law allowing federal courts to review the decisions of state judges who turned down her parents' efforts to resume her feeding. But state and federal judges all the way up to the Supreme Court upheld those decisions.
Arguing that federal courts had "run amok," largely because Congress failed to confront them, DeLay said: "Judicial independence does not equal judicial supremacy."
The comments came in a videotaped speech delivered to a Washington conference entitled "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith."
DeLay pointed the finger of blame at the courts for what he said was their invention of abortion rights and prohibitions of school prayer. He argued that courts had blatantly ignored the intent of Congress.
"The failure is to a great degree Congress'," DeLay said. "The response of the legislative branch has mostly been to complain. There is another way, ladies and gentlemen, and that is to reassert our constitutional authority over the courts."
On the day Schiavo died, DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search ) has taken a much more conciliatory tone on the issue, saying only that he wants to maintain the current independence of the courts and hopes a compromise can avoid a fight to change the rules.
President Bush on Friday said he supports "an independent judiciary" and declined to endorse comments by DeLay that were critical of judges.
"I believe in proper checks and balances," Bush said.
The president was speaking with reporters as he flew to Texas from Rome, where he attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Few other Republicans have gone as far as DeLay in criticizing an independent branch of government.
But Sen.Rick Santorum (search) , R-Pa., said the courts had practiced nothing less than "judicial tyranny" in this case and took aim at those who say Congress overstepped its bounds in getting involved.
"[This is] routinely done by the courts — deciding they are now a super-legislature," Santorum told reporters in a conference call soon after Schiavo's death. "I'm not sure if the press realizes how serious this conflict is between the branches of government and how gravely concerned members of Congress are with [the] kinds of judicial tyranny we've seen. ...
"To suggest Congress has exceeded power shows you there are judges who simply ignore written law and substitute their own judgments."
Sen. John Cornyn (search ), R-Texas, said he wondered 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."
Democrats like Sen. Edward Kennedy (search ) of Massachusetts have called the comments tantamount to inciting violence against judges.
"Mr. DeLay's escalating threats aimed at intimidating the federal judiciary fundamentally disrespect our Constitutional framework and dishonor the oath we take as public officials to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Mr. DeLay's remarks are unworthy of a leader," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search ) said in a statement Friday.
"Our Founders carefully constructed our system of checks and balances to include an independent federal judiciary as a co-equal branch of government to protect our freedoms. As Republicans increasingly use any means to justify their partisan ends, that system has never been more critical."
Bush, asked about DeLay's remarks, did say he would "continue to put judges on the bench who strictly and faithfully interpret the Constitution."
As Senate Republicans try to push through several of the president's judicial nominees, top Republicans told FOX News that the party is still smarting from what they perceive as massive public backlash against their legislation that ordered Schiavo's case to be reviewed by a federal court.
Sources said Frist and other top Republicans are annoyed at Delay for criticizing the judges who ruled against intervening in the matter.
DeLay has been making headlines lately over other issues as well. Liberal groups have launched ads attacking his allegedly unethical connections to lobbyists and former associates, which are under investigation. Other news reports have raised questions about his use of campaign cash. The House Ethics Committee rebuked him three times in one week last year.
FOX News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.