WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives should protect its subpoenaing power by sending in federal agents to protect Terri Schiavo and re-insert her feeding tube, Ken Connor, the lawyer who has represented Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the case of the disabled woman, told Baptist Press.
On March 18 a House committee issued a subpoena for Schiavo herself to appear in Washington for a hearing regarding the care and treatment of incapacitated persons. The hearing was scheduled to take place March 25.
While the subpoena was intended to protect Schiavo, Florida Judge George Greer ignored it and ordered that her feeding tube be pulled. If her feeding tube is not re-inserted she will die of starvation and dehydration within a matter of days.
“Congress has inherent authority, in my view, to take acts necessary to preserve its own jurisdiction,” Connor told BP. “… If Terri Schiavo dies, the object of that investigation will be compromised and frustrated, at least in part. I would urge the House to consider sending agents to gain control of Terri and to re-insert her feeding tube in order to preserve the evidence and to preserve Terri as a potential witness.”
By not doing so, Connor said, the House will be acknowledging that it is “somehow subordinate to and subservient to the judicial branch.”
“If Congress is not willing to assert itself as a co-equal branch of government in this case — preserve its authority to conduct its investigation, preserve the life of Terri Schiavo … when will it ever assert itself?” Connor asked.
Connor encouraged those who want Schiavo to be kept alive to contact Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121).
Connor acknowledged that Schiavo won’t be a “communicative witness” but he said there are “significant issues” as to whether she is indeed in a Persistent Vegetative State. While some experts have said she is in such a state, others have disagreed. Renowned neurologist William Hammesfahr, a Nobel Prize nominee, has said he does not think Schiavo is a PVS patient.
“It may very well be necessary to conduct further examinations to glean what her current status is cognitively and mentally,” Connor said.
On March 21 Congress passed and President Bush signed a law giving Schiavo’s parents the opportunity to take their case to federal court. So far, though, federal courts have refused to order that the feeding tube be re-inserted.
“If Terri dies … Congress’ intent — which was to get a fresh set of eyes to review the constitutional issues — would be totally frustrated,” Connor said. “But … the court has always been expansive and aggressive to exercise authority to preserve its jurisdiction. I would maintain that Congress needs to be no less zealous to protect its authority and jurisdiction under the Constitution than the courts are.”
Congress, Connor said, is a co-equal branch of government and needs to act that way.
“As it currently stands the executive and legislative branches are continually seeing their intent frustrated by a court system that has shown itself to be zealous in the protection of its own turf — so much so that it is willing to usurp the authority of the other branches of government,” he said.
If Congress does not act, Connor said, many people will question whether congressional laments about “an out-of-control judiciary” are serious.
“The political realities are going to be that the courts will have blackened the eyes of the Congress and the president, who acted in haste and in good faith to preserve this woman’s life,” he said. “And the courts have been slow walking this thing ever since they acquired jurisdiction and have obviously acted in a manner so as to completely frustrate Congress’ intent. The question is whether the Congress will assert itself to protect its own constitutional authority in this case or not.”
Schiavo’s case has captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks. For years her parents and her husband have been in a legal struggle over whether she should live or die. While her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she would not want to live in her present state, no written request exists. Meanwhile, he has lived with his girlfriend, by whom he has fathered two children. Terri Schiavo’s parents say she has the capacity to swallow and could be fed orally if it were allowed. She is 41.