Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Editorial: What Congress sacrifices for Schiavo
Federalism, separation of powers, a fair legislative process, even marital rights are undermined by the politically tainted intervention.
From the RoundTable blog
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In the public areas of Congress, legislators rushed to make impassioned speeches about "saving Terri" from her husband's wish to have her feeding tube removed and end her 15 years in what court-appointed doctors say is a persistent vegetative state. Privately, Republican memos declared "this is a great political issue" and said the bill's passage would excite "the pro-life base."
Pass it did. Pending judicial review, Congress and President Bush gave Schiavo's parents the right to sue in federal court to halt withdrawal of the care needed to sustain their severely brain-damaged daughter.
They did much more. In their hasty intervention, the president and Congress also struck at principles, precedents and traditional constraints that for centuries have protected the American people from federal overreach and abuse of majority power.
Assurances abounded that the bill set no precedents, changed no policies, did nothing other than allow those who love Schiavo and dispute her level of disability another chance in court to save her life. But consider the larger context:
• The law flouts federalism by overriding Florida's courts and legislature and asserting a federal role in what had been solely a state issue.
• The law intervenes in a continuing legal dispute, diminishing independent judicial application of established law and bringing the power of Washington to bear on one side.
• The law pushes a clumsy federal arm into a deeply complex medical, emotional and private issue that doctors, clergy and families are far better equipped to decide.
• In its rush to legislate, the majority abandoned congressional procedures designed to allow reasoned debate and prevent hurried, ill-considered laws.
The Schiavo legislation is troubling for what it does, but more so for the change it suggests in a prevailing attitude toward legislative restraint and the rule of law.
In running roughshod over the court system to obtain a politically desirable result in this private tragedy, Washington's two political branches signaled contempt for past constraints on majority power.