Thursday, January 19, 2006

Addressing the Latest Supreme Court Cases

The Oregon Assisted Suicide Case

This week the U.S. Supreme Court came out with two court decisions of significant importance to the Pro-Life community. The Oregon case addressed the efforts by the attorney general to utilize the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to keep doctors from prescribing lethal narcotic medications to assist in the patient's suicide. Oregon passed a law in 1994 allowing such actions by doctors and the U.S. Attorney General's office issued regulations to stop such action. The federal court and later the court of appeals ruled against the regulation and the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision upheld the lower court ruling. The opinion, penned by Justice Kennedy, attempts to reduce the question to that of proper jurisdictional authority to set regulations and guidelines for dispensing medication. To the extent that the ruling is deemed limited, Congress could act to plug the hole. But what troubled me in reading the opinion was the focus on the means and a total disregard for the end. The purpose of the CSA is not to assist doctors in providing medication that will allow a person to take his own life. The whole notion of the Oregon law insults the dignity of the human person. Kennedy's opinion does not adequately address that part of the equation. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the dissenters, and Justice Thomas also had an additional dissenting opinion.

Congress can address the problem if it has the courage. However I am not optimistic given the flak the media and the Washington press Corp gave Congress for its efforts in the Terri Schiavo matter. In the meantime, we need to remain vigilant especially in states like Arizona where there is a large elderly population.

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England

In this New Hampshire parental notification case, the supreme Court did something rarely seen in abortion cases. The justices ruled unanimously and sent the case back to the lower court to see if the law could be salvaged. Apparently the court decided that the notice idea is reasonable, but they were concerned if the statute allowed for those rare cases where (they claim) the health of the underage minor girl would be in danger (as opposed to life which was covered).

The good news is that the court did not wholesale throw out the New Hampshire law. The bad news is that the lower court gets to dictate its sense of things. The other bit of good news is that this idea that the courts at the lower level can simply enjoin laws on a facial challenge may be coming to an end. More analysis is required but one could make the argument that simply because planned parenthood argues a facial challenge against a regulations law does not give the lower court the carte blanche to enjoin the statute.

Justice John Roberts

With Roberts in the dissent on the assisted suicide case and joining the upholding of the statute in NH, Roberts has proven himself thus far to be what we pro-life advocates wanted on the bench - someone who respects the right to life of the human person.


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