WASHINGTON - A Republican senator who said judges could be inviting violence because of politically motivated decisions declined to apologize for his remarks yesterday. Senator Cornyn, a Republican of Texas and member of the Judiciary Committee, yesterday blamed Democrats for taking his comments out of context.
But Senator Schumer, a fellow committee member, said the comments exemplify conservative criticism of judges that is "getting out of hand" and threatens the independence of the judiciary.
Mr. Cornyn has been under fire since questioning on the Senate floor last week, "whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence." He made the remarks on Monday, less than four weeks after a man charged with rape allegedly shot and killed a judge and three others in an Atlanta shooting rampage.
Facing off against Mr. Schumer on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Mr. Cornyn said he was not speaking of the specific incident, and that his remarks had been misrepresented.
"I didn't make the link. It was taken out of context. I regret it was taken out of context and misinterpreted," said Mr. Cornyn, who spent 13 years as a judge on the Texas Supreme Court.
"I accept that Senator Cornyn wants to clarify his remarks," said Mr. Schumer. But they have to be put in the "larger context" of discussions in conservative circles about impeaching judges whose decisions stray from a strict interpretation of the Constitution, he said.
The House majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay, has said that the judges in the Schiavo case should be held accountable for their decisions.
"There is a whiff in the air of threatening judges," with violence or impeachment, said Mr. Schumer. "This is getting out of hand. It's an idea that judges shouldn't be independent," he said.
Mr. Cornyn said he did not wish to see judges impeached for their decisions. "I certainly think it's inappropriate to impeach or punish judges who make policy decisions," he said.
President Bush has distanced himself from the criticism. "I believe in an independent judiciary. I believe in checks and balances," Mr. Bush said on Friday.
The clash comes as the Senate prepares for a possible showdown in the coming weeks over the use of the filibuster to hold up judicial nominees, some of whom have been waiting almost four years for an up or down vote on the Senate floor.
Republicans have sufficient votes to change Senate rules and end the filibuster in judicial appointments, said Mr. Cornyn.
"I do believe there are the votes there to restore majority rule in the Senate," Mr. Cornyn said.
Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona, said yesterday on CBS News's "Face the Nation" that he is opposed to ending the filibuster but would vote in favor of the move if it was recommended by the Senate leadership.
He said he did not know whether there were sufficient votes to pass the rule change. "I think it's going to be close. ... But all of us want to listen to our leadership," he said.
Mr. Schumer said the rule change, dubbed the "nuclear option" by Democrats and the "constitutional option" by Republicans, would destroy longstanding "checks and balances" in the Senate, and turn the Senate into a "banana republic."
"The founding fathers intended the Senate to be the cooling saucer. And just because you have a bare majority doesn't mean you always get your way," said Mr. Schumer.
Democrats were blocking 10 judges, who he said are "extremists" in their overall views, Mr. Schumer said. Democrats allowed votes on 204 federal judges under President Bush, most of whom were pro-life, stressed Mr. Schumer, who denied Democrats were applying an abortion rights litmus test. Mr. Schumer said he personally voted to confirm "20 or 30" pro-life judges.
Democrats are threatening to retaliate by slowing Senate business to a near-halt by strict enforcement of Senate rules.
The minority leader in the Senate, Senator Reid of New Mexico, said on "Face the Nation": "We will not shut down the Senate. They will. We have told them that we want to work with them."