Judge Weighing Schiavo Case
U.S. District Judge James Whittemore has heard from both parties in the Schiavo case and is reportedly weighing the issues.
A federal judge weighed the fate of a brain-damaged Florida woman on Monday, acting hours after the U.S. Congress and President Bush intervened to push the highly charged right-to-die case back into court. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore began a hearing shortly after 3 p.m. EST to consider a request from Terri Schiavo’s parents to reinstate tube feeding for their 41-year-old daughter that was halted three days ago. CNN reported that the judge gave each side 30 minutes to make their case.
An ambulance was standing by at Schiavo’s hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, to take her to the hospital for the possible reinsertion of the feeding tube. Feeding was halted on Friday under order from a Florida court. Schiavo was expected to live for a week to two weeks without the feeding tube that has sustained her since a heart attack deprived her brain of oxygen in 1990.
The courts have long sided with Michael Schiavo in ruling that she is in a persistent vegetative state and would not want to live in this condition. Appeals have failed and until now federal courts have turned the case back to state courts.
Whittemore’s ruling almost certainly won’t be the end of things, given how long this has dragged out.
Radio host Glenn Beck had a guest on today speculating that last week’s Congressional subpoena of Terri Schiavo will be one likely venue for litigation. Unless this law is declared unconstitutional–a distinct possibility to be sure–there is now a federal question at stake and the possibility exists therefore that the ludicrous order for a a woman who will never be able to testify to testify would in effect require her to live with a feeding tube forever to avoid contempt of Congress charges.
Update (1753): Bloomberg gives the misleading headline “U.S. Judge in Schiavo Case Withholds Ruling on Feeding Tube” to the story.
A federal judge declined for now to order a feeding tube reinserted in Terri Schiavo, the brain- damaged Florida woman who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, after hearing arguments for about two hours in Tampa, gave no indication of how soon he may act on a request by Schiavo’s parents to order the tube inserted. “I will not tell you when, how or how long it will take,” Whittemore said.
The man has a heavy burden to bear under incredible public scrutiny. He’ll need time to get up to speed on the facts of a case that he’s only been eligible to rule on for a few hours. Even so, one presumes the answer will come soon, even as early as tonight, given the exigencies of the matter. A week from now, the case will in all probability have become moot.
Update (1806): AP has a similar headline and offers a cryptic hint at how Whittemore’s decision might go.
Armed with a new law rushed through Congress over the weekend, the attorney for Terri Schiavo’s parents pleaded with a judge Monday to order the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube reinserted. But the judge appeared cool to the argument. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore did not immediately make a ruling after the two-hour hearing, and he gave no indication on when he might act on the request.
During the hearing, David Gibbs, an attorney for the parents, said that forcing Schiavo to die by starvation and dehydration would be “a mortal sin” under her Roman Catholic beliefs. “It is a complete violation to her rights and to her religious liberty, to force her in a position of refusing nutrition,” Gibbs told Whittemore. But the judge told Gibbs that he was not completely sold on the argument. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that you have a substantial likelihood” of the parents’ lawsuit succeeding, said Whittemore, nominated by former President Clinton (news – web sites) in 1999.
Interesting. Supreme Court justices have been known to play Devil’s Advocate during oral arguments in order to evaluate the strength of their position. I don’t know if trial judges do that, let alone whether this one is, but I wouldn’t read too much into this.
(2123): Parents beg judge, but tube stays out (Miami Herald)
Lawyers for Terri Schiavo’s parents begged a federal judge Monday to order her reconnected to a feeding tube, but the judge expressed some skepticism about their highly publicized case and did not issue an immediate ruling. ”I think you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that you have a substantial likelihood” of ultimately winning the case, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa told the parents’ lead attorney. That is the usual threshold for the issuance of a preliminary injunction. The comment came during a 90-minute showdown hearing on the lawsuit filed Monday by Schiavo’s parents — a predawn legal initiative authorized hours earlier by a special act of Congress and the signature of President Bush.
Whittemore, who frequently and futilely asked the parents’ lawyer to cite constitutional precedents for this case, could issue a decision at any moment. The losing side is expected to file a swift appeal.
One suspects no decision is forthcoming tonight, although that’s just a guess. Most reports do seem to indicate an uphill battle for the Schindlers.
Theologian J. Grant Swank (via GoogleNews) is “puzzled” by Whittemore’s statement that, “I will not tell you when, how or how long it will take.”
Is it that he is so overcome with complexities that heÃ¢€™s driven up his own judicial tree? Or is it that heÃ¢€™s going to bask in his own judicial power limelight for his fifteen minutes, believing that whatever decision he makes will span out for an eternity of acclaim? Or is the judge one overly sensitive mortal who is bound morally to a multi-dimensional circumstance so that heÃ¢€™s imploring the Lord for guidance and hasnÃ¢€™t received it yet?
WouldnÃ¢€™t you think that every judge in the world has journeyed in his and her brain on this issue so as to come to his and her conclusion. “If only I were asked my decision, IÃ¢€™d do thus and thus.” IsnÃ¢€™t that what one would figure when it comes to a judge being handed the grand power at this juncture?
In other words, the judge hasnÃ¢€™t just been handed this matter today. Not. HeÃ¢€™s been like the rest of us Ã¢€” hearing about it, reading about it, discussing it. Therefore, being a judge with a judgeÃ¢€™s way of deliberating on complexities, surely he has formed an opinion. Then why not carry out that opinion with decorum and intelligence, with a judgeÃ¢€™s logic and breadth of experience Ã¢€” soon?
This consternation is understandable from a theologian’s standpoint. From a judge’s standpoint, though, the landscape was utterly changed by Congress’ action this morning. The judge now has to deal not only with the complex issues of the Schiavo-Schindler dispute with with newly created constitutional law issues that arose with the federalization of this case.
Swank is right, though, that the clock is ticking.
(2249): From tomorrow’s NYT: U.S. Court Begins Consideration of Schiavo Case
After two hours of tense and often emotional arguments, Judge James D. Whittemore of Federal District Court refused to rule immediately on whether to restore nutrition to Ms. Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman whose husband won a state court’s permission to remove her feeding tube last Friday. Judge Whittemore also expressed doubts about whether a federal review could change the ultimate outcome and seemed skeptical of the parents’ contention that the state courts had violated Ms. Schiavo’s right to due process. The delay disappointed Ms. Schiavo’s parents and others who have asked the federal court to swiftly order the tube reinserted and halt Ms. Schiavo’s demise.
Judge Whittemore, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1999, was randomly selected by computer to preside over the case after Congress passed an extraordinary law early Monday morning allowing Ms. Schiavo’s parents to seek a federal court review of the facts.
While their lawyer said that Ms. Schiavo, who had already gone more than three days without food or water, “may expire as I speak,” Judge Whittemore appeared to be taking the calculated risk that she would survive while he deliberated.