March 21, 2005
Palm Sunday Compromise and
the Judiciary vs. Congress
Terri Schiavo may still live, despite the efforts of her husband to kill her.
Early monday morning President Bush signed into law what is being called the "Palm Sunday Compromise". The law allows her parents to speak on her behalf.
Congress' display of power has truly lifted my spirits. As I have more and more become interested in politics, I was becoming disheartened. Compared to the judiciary, Congress seemed ineffectual and slow moving. But in just two days a bill (coauthored by Florida Representative Dave Weldon and Florida Senator Mel Martinez) was signed into law. So much for a slow moving Congress.
This law does not ensure that Terri Schiavo's life will be saved. I truly hope her life is saved, but this law is really something more to me. Congress is taking its power back from the judiciary. A state judge was going to decide for the nation the issue of euthanasia. A state judge! I know that appeals and such might have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Terri would have been dead by then. So in effect, one local judge held the entire issue of euthanasia in his hand. If Michael Schiavo killed Terri with the judge's permission, then euthanasia would be legalized through one biased man's decision.
Congress couldn't allow it. The "Palm Sunday Compromise" proves it. The Congress has taken the first step to taking back the power of making law that the judiciary had usurped so long ago. And not timidly either. In the House there was an ovewhelming majority and the Senate passed the bill unanimously. Admittedly, the bill seems timid in only allowing her parents to represent her and not directly saving her life as Governor Bush's "Terri's Law" did, but nonetheless a state judge will not decide the issue of euthanasia. Our federal government will, which is as it should be.
Posted by John on March 21, 2005 11:21 AM | Posted to Religion
I wish you people would stop getting so paranoid about "judicial activism". The Supreme Court has traditionally been a distinctly conservative - in the true, not-given-to-radical-change sense of the word - institution that very infrequently does anything that branches all that far from mainstream opinion. The problem here isn't an "activist judge" screaming for Schiavo's death, it's that existing law didn't provide adequate protection, and the judge was rightfully interpreting it as such. This isn't about Congress "taking back its power from the courts" nearly as much as it's about Congress doing its job. The courts aren't doing it, they're just making the best decisions they can based on the crap laws that are out there.
Ryan- I sort of agree with what you're saying here. Judicial activism has been charged too many times when this just isn't the case. A couple of points, though. The Supreme Court is not at issue here. The idea is to give the federal courts, possibly including the Supreme Court, a chance to get involved before Schiavo's death makes the normal appeals process moot. As to the particular Florida state judge, it begs the question to say that he is making the best use of the laws that are available. In this case, he is charged with determining, not only matters of law, but matters of fact. His proven competency in this regard is, at best, questionable. A judge may have to interpret the law according to the facts, but if the facts themselves have been ignored, then the law itself doesn't much matter. So much the worse for the judge when he is the one deciding the facts in the case. In any event, Congress is to be commended for doing its job.
I kinda hope you're joking about all this. "Congress is to be commended for doing its job"--that's facetious right? I mean really, you can't be serious. We've got, on average, two US soldiers dying every day in Iraq. And for every one of those, 20 Iraqis die. And you know whose deaths aren't even accounted for and/or reported in the media at all? Iraqi civilians. And yet the media has completely distracted all of us (and so has the freaking Federal Government), by making a national press case out of a woman in a prolonged vegetative state whose clear wish was not to remain as such. Her husband and legal guardian has every right to deign to her wishes and this is an absolute mockery of the dignity of human life. I'm going to assume you are joking about the whole thing, and I'll just chuckle. Har har.
Kevin: I was using the current situation to launch into a broader discussion of the courts as such. I'm aware that the SCOTUS hasn't done anything in this case. And though I agree with you that frequently judges make incompatent rulings based on the facts available, it's worth pointing out that the facts available are themselves frequently pretty awful. The judge is responsible for what comes before his bench far more than he is responsible for making sure that the right things are there, just as the legal system is concerned more with legality than fact.
Tyler: umm. Frankly, I'm not that worried about the Schiavo case. Doesn't strike me as a huge freaking deal. And though I tend to think her husband is a scumbag, I am not inherently opposed to the idea of taking people off life support. If you're permenantly incapable of surviving without direct mechanical intervention in such a way that anything but a bedridden existence is impossible, I'm okay saying that it's time to die. People die. It happens every day.
Thing is, I want to say the same thing about Iraq. War isn't the worst thing in the world, you know. Four words: "Peace in our time." People die. It's an open, non-empirical question whether more people will die as a result of the liberation of Iraq or another few decades of Baathist Islamofascism. Saddam was already directly responsible for the deaths of a couple of million people, counting the disappearances and state purges, attempts at Kurdish genocide, the Iran/Iraq war, and the enforced starvation of the Iraqi people brought about by Saddam spending aid money on luxuries, palaces, and weapons. I'd say getting rid of him has been worth the deaths we've seen so far. As far as the loss of US soldiers, though casualities are, of course, to be avoided as a rule of thumb, they're, well, soldiers, who have volunteered for their jobs, which are to kill people while trying to avoid getting killed. The loss of a soldier is tragic, but not cause for outrage: it happens.
Ryan, I wasn't really trying to invite a debate about the war (since, you know, I've done that enough already). I was, however, making a point about the outrageous media explosion over Ms. Schiavo that, I think, trivializes human life. Is this really what Congress should be deliberating over right now, when indeed we do have a foreign policy mess on our hands (although as you know I believe the mess in Iraq is being worked out in as good a way as we can hope for with this administration)??? The attention being given in the media to Schiavo's situation (that is by no means unique) is intended to be a massive distraction of our collective attention, pure and simple.
Also, "Palm Sunday Compromise"--doesn't it make anyone else sick/fearful how much this administration panders to a specific (read: Evangelical) demographic of supporters--even to the point of involving the liturgical calendar in the names of its bills? I swear, when the Federal Government starts smelling this foul, it might just turn me back into a small-government conservative!
Wow. Hot topic.
Tyler: while I have to disagree with your take on the Schiavo case (While I at first said the same thing, upon further investigation--videos of Terri's condition--I don't think we're looking at a state as debilitated as much of the media would like us to believe) I can heartily say with you that what's happening now is rather sickening--I haven't seen anything else being reported on since Sunday. By either side.
I'm afraid I don't really see the pandering either: if you're a member of a specific group, and formed your values as a member of that group (I do believe G.W.B. when he identifies himself as an evangelical) it only makes sense that your policies will reflect those convictions.
I was referring not as much to the policy as to the nomenclature. I see it as religious-political rhetoric no doubt. Not that it really bothers me that much, I'm just bored as hell at work and need something to do ;)
Ryan- I see what you're doing as far as launching a broader discussion. It's just that the way you introduced the Supreme Court struck me as something of a non sequitur in light of the original post. I didn't see the connection. As to judges and facts, I was referring to this specific case. From what I've seen, I'm not that convinced that Schiavo is in as bad a condition as her husband would have us to believe. There is not unanimous agreement that she is brain dead or in a permanent vegetative state. This might prove to be the case, but the judge seems to be deliberately ignoring testimony to the contrary. But even if he actually has considered both sides, the order to remove her feeding tube should not have taken effect until after the appeals process had been exhausted. It's one thing to win on appeal after having been incarcerated, quite another to win after dying as a result of the sentence. Also, this may not be just a simple matter of terminating life support. There is still the question of whether she is able to ingest food without a feeding tube. Her husband has refused any tests to see if this might be the case. All of which contributes to making him the last person that I would believe when it comes to knowing what her wishes were. The default position should be to presume life.
Tyler- The issue of Iraq and media coverage of the Schiavo case is a red herring. It may be true that two soldiers and 20 Iraqis die every day. It may be true that the media has distracted us from more important things. It may true that Congress' primary motivation is reelection. It may even be the case that Republican Congressmen spend their afternoons shooting American soldiers and people of mid-East descent. Perhaps Barbara Bush poisoned Schiavo so that her son could gain some political clout among the evangelicals. All of which is beside the point. All I meant to say was that, in this case, Congress was right to provide a way for Schiavo to remain alive while the appeals process is carried to its fullest extent (whether a federal judge takes them up on it is another matter). You do offer a valid argument by saying that her husband has every right to deign to her wishes. I have already given one response: her husbands credibility is pretty low. Another is that, if Schiavo is not brain dead and is not in a permanent vegetative state (a different proposition than being permanently paralyzed) then her wishes, if she had them, may be prone to misinterpretation. For that matter, they may be irrelevent. Assuming that her actual condition is the best that has been claimed for her, I wouldn't wish to be kept alive in it. But then, personal wishes don't always conform to what is morally acceptable. If she is brain dead and her body is being kept alive through artificial means, that's one thing. In this case, it's certainly not going to hurt her to keep her body alive until the issue is settled. What's the rush? On the other hand, if she is in a better condition, as her parents and others have contended, and especially if she doesn't really need the life support, then the sixth commandment would seem to apply. She may not request her death, nor may those in a position to help refuse to maintain her life.
Tyler - the nomenclature is actually the media's.
The actual text of the "Compromise Bill" can be found at
Otter--Interesting, I stand corrected. That's very interesting. What media outlets have used the "Palm Sunday Compromise" phrasing?
Kevin--I do understand what you're saying. It's probably better to wait if the situation is really as shaky as you say it is. But the media distraction still pisses me off, even if it doesn't address the original point you made. I value human life and it just kinda burns me when the government and media get caught up in such an emotional hubub that really doesn't need this much attention in order to be solved. That's all.
Tyler - FoxNews and The Washington Post for two. Lots of other local newspapers have picked up on it as well.