Thursday, September 23, 2004

Florida Supremes Make a Tough Call

I'm not surprised by the substance of the Florida Supreme Court's decision in the case of Terry Schiavo, which enables the removal of the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube. I am intrigued by the legal logic underlying the court's decision. From AP via Yahoo! News:
Fla. Court Nixes Law Keeping Woman Alive

By JACKIE HALLIFAX, Associated Press Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law that was rushed through the Legislature last fall to keep a severely brain-damaged woman hooked up to a feeding tube against her husband's wishes.

The unanimous court said the law that kept Terri Schiavo alive violated the separation of powers between the judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches.

Lower courts had ruled that Michael Schiavo could have the tube removed, but the Legislature passed the law to overrule the courts. Gov. Jeb Bush then used the law to order the tube reinserted. The court's decision came just weeks after oral arguments....

"It is without question an invasion of the authority of the judicial branch for the Legislature to pass a law that allows the executive branch to interfere with the final judicial determination in a case," Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the court. "That is precisely what occurred here."

The court said the law improperly delegated legislative powers to the governor, who had complete authority to issue or lift a stay....

The 40-year-old woman left no written instructions before suffering brain damage when her heart stopped beating 14 years ago. But in Florida a person's wishes must be honored even if they are expressed orally.

Schiavo's parents disagree with their son-in-law about her wishes, insisting their daughter wanted to live and could be helped with therapy. Courts have generally sided with Michael Schiavo, but parents Bob and Mary Schindler have won stays that have kept their daughter alive.
Why didn't the court simply accept Michael Schiavo's word that his wife didn't want to live in a vegetative state? Is the court using the Schiavo case as a way of getting back at Florida's Republican legislature and governor for the outcome of Bush v. Gore? In that case, as you know, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the predominantly Democrat Florida court, which had overruled the intent of the Florida legislature, as properly interpreted by Jeb Bush's secretary of state, so that Gore's minions could continue to manufacture the votes Gore needed to defeat Bush.

That's the only way I can read it.

Since when has it been improper for a legislature to make a law that effectively overrules a judicial determination? It would be improper if the law itself is unconstitutional. But how is it unconstitutional for the Florida legislature to authorize the governor to issue a stay in the matter? Legislatures don't issue stays, but they can authorize the executive to issue them.

Mmmm...this one may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.