Unanimous Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Special Law That Overrides Medical Decisions in Terri Schiavo Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
September 23, 2004 12:00 am


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ACLU Says Decision is Rebuke to Politicians Who Sought to Negate Court Rulings on the Matter

MIAMI – In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the Florida Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that reversed a series of court rulings and interfered with the medical decisions of Theresa Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman who, Florida courts found, did not wish to be kept alive artificially.

“The governor and Florida lawmakers abused their power by acting in haste without any consideration for Florida’s independent judiciary and in blatant disregard for what the courts found Terri Schiavo would have wanted,” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Today’s thoughtful and careful opinion will be very important in the history of Florida because it is a strong rebuke to politicians who attempt to negate court decisions – especially those involving extremely difficult life and death issues – simply because they disagree with the outcome.”

In its 30-page ruling issued today, the Supreme Court ruled that the one-time bill giving Florida Governor Jeb Bush the unprecedented authority to order the reinsertion of Schiavo’s life-prolonging feeding tubes is unconstitutional because it encroaches on the power of the judiciary branch and delegates legislative authority to the governor.

The court added: “As our decision today makes clear, this case is about maintaining the integrity of a constitutional system of government with three independent and coequal branches, none of which can either encroach upon the powers of another branch or improperly delegate its own responsibilities.”

Florida courts had ruled that Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering cardiac arrest in 1990, would not have wanted to be kept alive through artificial means and ordered the tubes removed. But the law, passed by the Florida Legislature on October 21, 2003, gave the governor the authority to intervene in Schiavo’s medical decisions and remove the feeding tubes.

Following the enactment of the bill, the ACLU of Florida joined as co-counsel to challenge the constitutionality of the law, arguing that the legislature and governor’s actions violated the separation of powers structure of government and were an unconstitutional intrusion on judicial authority.

The ACLU represents Schiavo’s legal guardian and husband of 18 years, Michael Schiavo.

The case is Jeb Bush v. Michael Schiavo, as Guardian of the person of Theresa Maria Schiavo vs. Jeb Bush, et al., (Case No. SC04-925. The legal team consists of George J. Felos, of Felos & Felos, P.A. in Dunedin, Fla., Deborah A. Bushnell, also of Dunedin, Fla., ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall, and ACLU of Florida cooperating attorneys Thomas J. Perrelli and Robert M. Portman of the Washington-based law firm of Jenner & Block LLC.

Today’s decision is online at:
http://www.flcourts.org/sct/sctdocs/ops/sc04-925.pdf

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