Saturday, March 19, 2005

NYT on Schiavo Maneuvering

The latest on Congress's effort to pass a law, limited to the Schiavo case, to permit a federal district court to engage in collateral review of the state-court judgment that led to withdrawal of her feeding tube, is here. The key grafs on the procedural maneuvers:

The Schiavo case was striking a particular chord among social conservatives because, they asserted, it showed the power and what Mr. Perkins called "the arrogance" of the judiciary involved in the case. They were all the more enraged on Friday, after a showdown between Congressional leaders and Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, the presiding judge in Ms. Schiavo's case since 1998. When the House and Senate failed to agree on legislation earlier in the week, House and Senate committees tried to block the removal by issuing subpoenas to Ms. Schiavo and her husband.

Judge Greer rejected those efforts, saying Congress had no jurisdiction in the case. After his ruling, the House committee made an emergency request to the Supreme Court to try to reinsert the feeding tube while pursuing appeals in lower courts, but the Supreme Court rejected the request, without explanation.

Until now, the House and Senate had been divided over how far to go in giving federal courts new jurisdiction over medical issues like those in the Schiavo case. Conservative House Republicans had raced through a bill that would apply to all "incapacitated persons" and transfer their cases to federal courts if all state legal efforts had been exhausted and they had not executed a living will. The Senate enacted a much narrower bill that deals only with Ms. Schiavo's case.

The changes reached in the compromise were intended to reduce objections by clearly spelling out that the legislation was not intended to set a new precedent. Though it applies only to Ms. Schiavo, the measure will also not be labeled a "private relief" bill to ease traditional House objections to passing bills for specific individuals. It is rare but not unheard of for Congress to act on behalf of individuals; lawmakers last session passed about a dozen such bills, most of them related to immigration.

In an effort to pass this bill, a series of procedural steps were initiated Saturday night, when the Senate met briefly and passed an adjournment resolution. That cleared the way for House and Senate leaders, whose members are scattered around the country and the world, on what was to have been a two-week recess, to call an emergency session.

The House will meet on Sunday to try and pass the new measure with the unanimous agreement of both parties. If an objection is raised -- and a Democratic congressman from Florida indicated Saturday night that he would object -- the House will then wait until immediately after midnight to try again. Should a roll call vote be demanded, members would have to be summoned back. But if the House is able to act immediately, the Senate is prepared to follow suit under special streamlined procedures that would not require most senators to return.


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