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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

First Lady wrong on Schiavo case

By Andrea Horbinski
Copy Editor

Friday, April 8, 2005

Being First Lady of the United States is an odd job: part hostess, part trophy wife, part emblem of American woman-hood and sometimes even part-politician or power behind the “throne.” Some modern First Ladies (Nancy Reagan and Senator Hillary Clinton), for example, have been uniquely polarizing figures in American politics.

Others, such as Laura Bush, have opted to stay out of the limelight. Mrs. Bush even lets the president speak for her when the couple is interviewed together.

Given Mrs. Bush's reticence on matters in general and politics in particular, I was quite amazed to find her advancing a uniquely tendentious opinion about the case of the late Terri Schiavo: "I just feel like the federal government has to be involved," she told reporters last Wednesday. "It is a life issue that really does require government to be involved."

Despite being a former librarian, it appears that Mrs. Bush has not bothered to read the United States Constitution, which clearly enumerates the separation of powers between the judiciary and the other two branches of government.

It was this cardinal principle of the American republic that Congress and President Bush willfully violated by passing legislation that infringed upon Mrs. Schiavo's fifth ammendment rights to due process, placing her case under the jurisdiction of federal rather than state courts.

Thankfully, the state courts themselves struck down the legislation less than 48 hours after it was signed.

This appears to be a textbook example of the Constitution's checks and balances in action: the executive and legislative branches were carried away by their own ideological fervor, and the judiciary served its constitutional purpose as the impassive, unswayable arbiter of the law.

Having read the Constitution myself, I was positively appalled to open the newspaper last Friday and read that lawmakers and pundits were not only unapologetic over Congress' shameless attempt to empower itself, but they were actually arguing that the courts had overstepped themselves.

House majority leader Tom DeLay, who allowed his own brain-damaged father to be taken off life support in the early 1980s, bellowed that the courts "Thumbed their nose at Congress and the president," and that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, called the Schiavo case "A tragic, unfortunate but avoidable event that should awaken Americans to the problem of the courts. It is no longer theoretical. It is life or death."

When the majority leader of the House of Representatives makes statements which could be construed as death threats against the members of the judiciary, and opinion-makers call the proper functioning of the Constitutional process a "life or death 'problem,'" something is surely rotten in the state of America.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that "The republic is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind," but it seems these public figures wish to open hostilities.

It is a strange twist of fate that Terri Schiavo's legacy is a battle over the soul of our republic rather than a debate over something more germane, such as the right to die; however, that does not change the nature of the fight.

Any attempt by Congress to further legislate away any of the rights involved in the Schiavo case, especially the position and powers of the judiciary vis-à-vis its fellow branches of government, is not only unconstitutional, but dangerous. If DeLay and his compatriots live up to their rhetoric, they could critically endanger our republic.

Jefferson also wrote that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and whatever one's opinion concerning Terri Schiavo's sad story, we must all take away an increased wariness over our elected representatives' willingness to tinker with the fundamental laws governing our country. If we do not, we may soon find ourselves living in an America we can no longer recognize as "the land of the free."

Copy Editor Andrea Horbinski is a sophomore from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics and linguistics with a Japanese studies concentration.

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