Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Judge Whittemore Gets It Right

After trying to use the power of the legislature to overrule a specific ruling in the state courts, Congress received the rebuke it was asking for: Judge Whittemore ruled, properly, that the case had already been "exhaustively litigated" by state courts and that there were no rational grounds for subjecting it to a new review by the federal courts.

Remember that the legal issue here is not the condition of Terry Schiavo's brain or whether her parents have a right to keep her alive: those issue have already been argued and settled over many years in Florida state courts. The issue, at this point, is whether Congress can create for itself the power to exercise an ad hoc veto over judicial rulings—the motive behind Monday's late-night legislative gimmicks.

"Federal Judge Denies Request to Reinsert Schiavo's Feeding Tube," Abby Goodnough, New York Times, 3/22/05

"The Schindlers' appeal was filed just hours after Judge James D. Whittemore of Federal District Court in Tampa ruled against them on an emergency request that had been made possible only by the intervention of Congress and President Bush. The judge said that Ms. Schiavo's case had already been 'exhaustively litigated' in the state courts and that the parents of the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman had not established a 'substantial likelihood of success' at a new, federal trial on the merits of their arguments.... Judge Whittemore issued his 13-page [ruling] around 6:30 am, after an afternoon hearing in Tampa that resulted from the special legislation Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation in the wee hours of Monday permitting Ms. Schiavo's parents to seek the review of a federal court. 'This court appreciates the gravity of the consequences of denying injunctive relief,' Judge Whittemore wrote. But he also found that Ms. Schiavo's 'life and liberty interests' had been adequately protected by the Florida courts, and that despite 'these difficult and time-strained circumstances,' his court was obliged 'to apply the law to the issue before it' and deny the parents' request to restore nutrition and hydration to their