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GOP lawmakers decry ruling, seem unsure about intervening again

WASHINGTON—The extraordinary congressional session that culminated with a post-midnight vote and a president sleepily signing legislation seemed like a rousing success for Republicans looking to give Terri Schiavo a chance at life.

But a judge's rebuff of the law Tuesday sapped much of the sense of accomplishment and left the GOP lawmakers, to a person, "deeply disappointed," but uncertain what, if anything, to do next.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas accused U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa, Fla., of getting it wrong, blasting the ruling as "at odds with both the clear intent of Congress and the constitutional rights of a helpless young woman."

The congressional legislation "requires a completely new and full review of the case," DeLay said.

Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., was less circumspect.

"We didn't get a fresh review," Feeney said. "The federal judge for whatever reason deliberately didn't take a fresh look."

Feeney said lawmakers required that the court hold a "de novo" hearing—in effect, open a new case—but that Whittemore disposed of the issue without taking new testimony.

But with polls showing widespread disapproval for congressional intervention and the case still before a federal appeals court, there appeared to be little enthusiasm for further congressional intervention.

After convening an extraordinary weekend session, lawmakers Tuesday relied on terse press releases, saying they were pinning their hopes on the appeals court in Atlanta.

Should the appeal fail, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told CNN, "there is nothing more the federal government can do."

"The (court) said her due process rights were protected," said Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Congress would not have the authority to step in."

Mel Martinez, the Florida senator who sat in the presiding officer's chair as the Senate endorsed the legislation Sunday afternoon, suggested that Congress' role is over.

"I believe this matter now belongs in the hands of the judiciary," Martinez said in a statement. "Congress acted in a measured and appropriate way and has done all it could to give Terri Schiavo one last chance at life. I would of course be hopeful for a different decision on appeal."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in a letter to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, reiterated his call for the Florida Legislature to again intervene in the case, citing "the uncertain judicial outcome of this case."

"The new law has opened the federal courthouse doors for Terri, but federal action should not be her only remaining option," Frist wrote. "The extraordinary nature of this case requires that every avenue be pursued to protect her life."

The religious groups that have turned Schiavo's case into a cause celebre have no intention of writing off federal intervention, however. They plan a news conference in front of the White House on Wednesday to ask President Bush to use his executive power to help her.


(Clark reports for The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Nancy San Martin of The Miami Herald contributed to this report from Washington.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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