America's religious right lashes out at judges over Schiavo

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The Independent US

Terri Schiavo is dead but the political storm unleashed by her passing shows no sign of abating - with the polarising and embattled figure of Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, squarely in its eye.

Terri Schiavo is dead but the political storm unleashed by her passing shows no sign of abating - with the polarising and embattled figure of Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, squarely in its eye.

A day after Ms Schiavo died in a Florida hospice, the unseemly battle between her parents and her husband moved into a new phase, this time over her funeral arrangements.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, would like her to be buried in Florida.

But the last word - as it has throughout the angry dispute - almost certainly belongs to her husband, Michael Schiavo, who plans a cremation. The ashes will be buried at a secret site near Philadelphia, to avoid "a media spectacle," according to Michael's brother, Scott Schiavo.

In the meantime an autopsy was being carried out, which may resolve the extent of the brain damage of Ms Schiavo, diagnosed as being in a "persistent vegetative state" since she was stricken in 1990.

But whatever the forensic findings, the political shockwaves of the story will continue to reverberate, pitting conservative Republicans and social groups, desperate to save Ms Schiavo, against a judicial system that refused to intervene to keep her alive.

For a conservative Christian right that regards what has happened as legalised murder, the culprits are America's unelected federal judges. As the movement's leaders point out, the federal judiciary was specifically invited to step in by emergency congressional legislation, signed by President George Bush. But they complain bitterly, it signally failed to do so. The judicial system is now "totally out of control," said James Dobson, the head of the Focus on the Family ministry and pressure group, and considered one of the most influential evangelical Christians in the country.

Even more remarkable however was the outburst of Mr DeLay, Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives and closely linked to the religious right, who led the campaign to have Congress interfere in an affair that most Americans, polls say, should be resolved by the judiciary.

The courts "had thumbed their nose at Congress and the President," the Texan said. More astounding still, he appeared to threaten vengeance against those who had defied his wishes. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour," he thundered, implying that impeachment of the errant judges was not out of the question.

His language horrified not only Democrats but also some Republicans, appalled by an attack on the independence of the judicial branch, enshrined in the US Constitution. Some observers think it may deepen Mr DeLay's considerable political difficulties on several fronts.

In his home state, prosecutors are investigating his involvement in a funding scandal. In Washington, where he has had several brushes with the house ethics committee, he is accused of taking free trips paid for by lobbyist cronies - some of these involved in a related scandal over Indian casino gambling.

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