WASHINGTON – House Republicans say they haven't opened and don't plan any new investigations of federal judges after Terri Schiavo's (search) death despite Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) promise to examine the judiciary's conduct.
Some of the issues raised by DeLay were being examined by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis., before the embattled Texas Republican's recent barrage against federal judges over their handling of Schiavo's case.
The panel held a hearing last year on the issue of federal judges citing foreign law in their decisions. That came after legislation to prohibit the practice was filed. The bill never came to a vote but has been reintroduced this year.
DeLay, now involved in an ethics controversy over the source of funding for some of his foreign travels, escalated his attacks on the judiciary after Schiavo's death March 31.
He suggested that the House look at impeaching some judges and complained that many of them, appointed by Republican as well as Democratic presidents, are "judicial activists."
Last week he labeled as "outrageous" Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's (search) references to no other countries executing people for murders they committed before reaching age 18 in writing the court's 5-4 decision in March declaring capital punishment for juvenile offenders unconstitutional.
Sensenbrenner also has been looking for a long time at the idea of increasing Congress' oversight of judicial discipline. He told a judicial conference last year that Congress "will begin assessing whether the disciplinary authority delegated to the judiciary has been responsibly exercised and ought to continue."
In response, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist established a panel chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer to investigate the court's handling of judicial misconduct. Breyer's panel has yet to release its report, said Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Sensenbrenner.
However, neither Rehnquist nor any other Supreme Court justice has reacted publicly to DeLay's barbs since Schiavo's death, which occurred 10 days after Congress passed and President Bush signed a bill seeking federal court intervention to prolong the severely brain-damaged woman's life.
"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," DeLay said then, promising that the GOP-controlled House "will look at an arrogant and out of control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president."
A few days later, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, questioned in a Senate speech whether frustration over perceived political decisions by judges "builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."
Both Cornyn and DeLay said later that some of their language had been too harsh after other Republicans, including Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, rushed to distance themselves from the sentiments expressed by the two lawmakers.
A majority of Republicans think that unless it can be proven that judges did something illegal, they should be left alone, said GOP Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee.
"I think we should be very, very careful about exercising legislative oversight of case-specific decisions in federal court, unless it rises to the level of judicial misconduct, in which case it's certainly appropriate to remove judges," Inglis said. "But I don't think that happened in this case."
Texas GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, a DeLay ally who leads the Judiciary subcommittee that handles court oversight, has not scheduled any new investigations or hearings, said a spokesman.
DeLay's remarks, meanwhile, have been cited by Senate Democrats in defending their use of filibusters to block some of Bush's most conservative appeals court nominees. Frist has threatened to change the Senate rules so that filibusters — requiring 60 votes in the 100-member to overcome — cannot be used against judicial nominees.
Frist, Sensenbrenner and others, however, have found themselves repeatedly saying they believe the judiciary should be independent.
"When we think judicial decisions are outside mainstream American values, we will say so. But we must also be clear that the balance of power among all three branches requires respect — not retaliation," Frist said Sunday.