But things are much worse today. Republicans in Congress provoked an extraordinary emergency session Sunday night to enact legislation that gives the federal courts unprecedented authority to hear a family law case regarding one woman, Terri Shiavo. The republicans (and a few misguided democrats) found this necessary because they disagree with the decision of the Florida state courts to discontinue Ms. Shiavo’s feeding tube, despite the fact that she has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade.
“An Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Shiavo”
During the session, House members engaged in a wide-ranging mockery of court procedure, the likes of which we have not seen since King Charles’ Star Chamber. It was, at best, a slapdash exercise in conjecture--evaluating ‘facts’ without evidence; weighing the credibility of alleged testimony without the bother of actually calling witnesses; attacking character without rebuttal or cross-examination; recounting members’ own experiences with similar issues at other times; and all manner of prejudicial and inflammatory rhetoric; all without providing notice to the other side or a meaningful opportunity to be heard. All of which is de rigueur when used for the policy-making function of a legislative body, but an outrageous way to evaluate a single court case.
This is why we have courts (or used to). The Common Law has spent the past several centuries carefully weeding out this kind of procedural free-for-all, in favor of fairer rules of evidence and procedure. But that’s not good enough for Congress if they don’t produce the result they want.
Perhaps we should have expected this from Congress sooner or later, but the more baffling question is why the Republicans led this charge against state courts. Their position seems rather out of character:
It seems that political expedience and pandering to the Religious Right is more important than the Party’s more traditional principles.
They are a party that hates federal power and favors states rights . . .
imposing federal power to upset years of painstaking work in state
They are a party that rails against “unelected federal
judges” . . . sending the case to a federal judge.
They are a party that worships the sanctity of marriage . . .
disregarding the wishes of a husband and wife, as determined by dozens of judges and years of litigation.
They are a party that idolizes the constitution as
originally drafted . . . using the federal legislative branch to usurp the authority of a state’s judiciary by picking a single, decided case out of state court and forcing a new action in federal court.
What will they do if they don’t like the federal decision? Pass another law decreeing the outcome? Create a new court? Don’t laugh.