Pat Robertson, founder of Christian Coalition of America and host of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, made misleading and incorrect statements regarding the Terri Schiavo case during a March 31 appearance on Fox News.
First, Robertson attempted to suggest that Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state by referencing the testimony of "a noted Nobel Prize-winning neurologist named Dr. Himmelfarb." However, as Media Matters previously noted, Dr. William Hammesfahr -- to whom Robertson was presumably referring -- was never legitimately nominated for the prize, let alone received it.
Robertson also criticized the courts for their role in the Schiavo case, calling the judiciary "out of control" and in need of being "reined back in." Robertson further claimed that Republicans need to fight the "out of control" judiciary by putting an end to Democratic filibusters of some of President Bush's nominees. He asserted that "the Supreme Court has got to change. They have asserted power never given them under the Constitution, and we've got to get back to constitutional democracy, which is what our country was built on."
Robertson's linkage of the Schiavo case to the debate on judicial nominations is premised on the idea that the federal judges deciding the Schiavo case were not conservatives, a situation that would presumably be ameliorated by the addition of those Bush nominees who have been or may be filibustered by Democrats. But federal courts at every level rejected the claim by Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, that the law gave them the right to have Schiavo's feeding tube restored and to a de novo review, or a complete rehearing, of the case in federal court. These decisions were not in fact the actions of liberal judges. While the district court judge was an appointee of President Clinton, the 12-judge en banc panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the Schindlers's two appeals, has a 7-5 Republican majority. Moreover, one of the two dissenters who favored hearing the case was appointed by Clinton. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court, which Robertson specifically attacked, is made up of seven Republican appointees and two Democratic appointees.
Robertson made his comments during Fox News' special coverage of the Schiavo case between 4 and 5 p.m. ET. The show's guest list during this special coverage was anything but "fair and balanced." The show featured six guests who argued that Schiavo's feeding tube should have been restored: Robertson, entertainer Pat Boone, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Cliff Kincaid of the conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media. Only two guests expressed contrary views: David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, and Paul Levinson, chairman of the Department of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University.
From Fox News' March 31 special coverage of the Terri Schiavo case:
BRENDA BUTTNER (Fox News senior business correspondent): Sir, I wanted to ask you also about the Terri Schiavo case. You have called this judicial murder, I believe, a judicial execution. Those are very strong words.
ROBERTSON: Well, it's exactly what happened. You know, on my program today, I read in detail the finding of a noted Nobel Prize-winning neurologist named Dr. Himmelfarb [sic]. This man examined her for several hours, and his conclusion was that she could swallow, she was responsive to voices, she was responsive to music. That she could feel pain, that she had been given painkillers. This woman was not persistent vegetative. And Dr. Himmelfarb [sic] said I've treated patients that were worse than she was and brought them to some kind of a recovery. This was an execution. I mean, you couldn't do that to a prisoner in a jail, a convicted cop killer wouldn't have gotten treatment like that.
BUTTNER: Well, what do you do next? Terri is sadly dead. What is the next step in this fight?
ROBERTSON: Listen, to me -- I spoke to the National Press Club several months ago, and they said, "What is your principal agenda?" I said, "It's judges, judges and judges." I think the judiciary is out of control. The way that that federal district court judge in Florida thumbed his nose at the United States Congress is outrageous. And I think it's time those guys get reined back in.
BUTTNER: How do you fight against the judicial, which is appointed in many cases by the president?
ROBERTSON: Yes. Well, one thing that I would suggest doing is you give them a 12-year term, period, end of story and tell them goodbye. This business that -- the constitution says they serve on good behavior. And I think we need a constitutional amendment to take them out of there. That's for starters. But I do know that there are going to be vacancies on the Supreme Court, and I think, as far as I can tell, on the circuit courts. The Democrats have filibustered a number of wonderful people, a black woman, a Hispanic immigrant, etc.-- brilliant lawyers, and the Republicans need to break that filibuster. And if they call it the nuclear option-- constitutional option, whatever it is -- get those people confirmed. But the Supreme Court has got to change. They have asserted power never given them under the constitution, and we've got to get back to constitutional democracy, which is what our country was built on.