Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Schiavo Storm

Given the media coverage and the extreme actions currently being undertaken by the legislature, one would think that the death of Terry Schiavo seriously threatens our Republic to such an extent as to create a precedent that destroys the principle of separation of powers:
QUESTION: What does that concept do the regular give and take between the court systems, the idea of comity and cooperation between judges?

ANSWER: It destroys it. But that's the whole point of this Congressional action. Not liking a particular result in a case that has been litigated fully and completely by a court with competent jurisdiction, Congress now has said that the game must be re-done with new rules that heavily favor one side over the other. The implications of this move are astonishing. Just think about it. Anytime Congress doesn't like the result in a particular case, it could swoop in and call a "do-over," which is essentially what this legislation represents. And this from a Congress that has for a decade or so tried to keep all sorts of citizens-- including disabled employees-- out of federal court. If this law is declared valid, no decision in any state court in the country will be immune from Congressional second-guessing. It would throw out of whack the entire concept of separation of powers. The constitutional law expert Tribe calls it "trial by legislation" and he is right. (emphasis mine)

Why on earth would conservatives work so hard against the grain of federalist principles? Well, according to a memo distributed to Republican senators, this intervention is meant to serve a political purpose by playing to the Christian Right:
In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo case was characterized as "a great political issue" that could pay dividends with Christian conservatives, whose support is essential in midterm elections such as those coming up in 2006.

Interestingly enough, George Bush signed the Texas Futile Care Law back when he was Governor of Texas that essentially allows hospitals to discontinue life support against a family's wishes if the family doesn't have the ability to pay all of the medical bills.

Matt Yglesias points out a particularly salient fact about this whole affair:

It seems worth noting at this point that the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus voted last week to cut Medicaid benefits. Like the cowards that they are, no specific cuts were on the table, rather they wanted to force Governors to undertake unspecified cuts. We do know, however, what Medicaid spends the bulk of its money on -- long-term care for ailing elderly and disabled people -- so we know what would have been cut.

In fact, also in this very week, Republicans have been manuevering to pass a Bankruptcy bill that will be a terrible detriment to the unfortunate Americans who fall into debt. According to a recent Harvard study, about half of all people who file for Chapter 7 do so in the wake of spending on major and often unexpected medical expenses. By denying these people the ability to file for bankruptcy, Congress is ignoring the very painful fact that far too many people do not have the proper insurance to deal with catastrophic medical problems, and now they are taking away an avenue through which these unlucky people could avoid being thrown into poverty by no real fault of their own. The confluence of all of these factors mean that the GOP is making it much harder for people to pay for their medical expenses (which, in Texas means no life support thanks to George W.), and consigning those who have to take out loans beyond their means to keep loved ones alive to poverty. The intellectual and moral contradictions here baffle me: I can't believe all of these items fall on the agenda for the supposed majority. But then again, we all know what the current GOP stands for.


At 1:01 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Good points all Chris, and I don't really have too much to add. It's worth pointing out though that the ridiculous amounts of media attention being paid to the Schiavo case are emblematic of a larger problem in American newsmedia and politics: misprioritizion. I would be quite surprised if our media had, over the past 7 years, devoted to Congo's 3 million and counting dead one tenth of the attention it has recently given Schiavo. I have a lot of faith in the American people, and I'm convinced that if the majority of this country knew of the ongoing and preventable atrocities in places like Congo and Sudan we could summon up the will to stop them. But when news of actual import is buried on the back pages of low circulation policy journals, that becomes less likely. Thanks, CNN.


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