Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bennett On Where The Buck Stops

I think this is a must-read column. As I've said before, it is my great hope that, if nothing else, this case finally clarifies just what the balance of powers is supposed to mean, and it's not "When the Judiciary says jump, you say how high".

Clearly, Governor Bush believes "Terri's Law" to be constitutional. Not only did he sign it into law, he later challenged the decision of his own state Supreme Court by appealing to the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court would not hear the case.

In theoretical terms, this is a conflict between the separate powers of Florida government, as the judicial and executive branches have different opinions about what the Florida constitution requires. But in practical terms, Terri's life hangs in the balance: If the Florida supreme court prevails, she dies. If Governor Bush prevails, she lives. It is a mistake to believe that the courts have the ultimate say as to what a constitution means. Every governor is bound by oath to uphold and protect his state constitution. In the case of Florida, the constitution Mr. Bush pledged to defend declares that, "All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty..." If the governor believes that he and the Florida legislature possess the constitutional authority and duty to save Terri's life, then he is bound by his oath of office to do so.


In taking these extraordinary steps to save an innocent life, Governor Bush should be judged not by the opinion of the Florida supreme court, a co-equal branch of the Florida government, but by the opinions of his political superiors, the people of Florida. If they disagree with their governor, they are indeed free to act through their elected representatives and impeach him. Or they can vindicate him if they think he is right. But he should not be cowed into inaction — he should not allow an innocent woman to be starved to death — because of an opinion of a court he believes to be wrong and unconstitutional.

Governor Jeb Bush may find it difficult to protect Terri's rights without risking impeachment. But in the great American experiment in republican government, much is demanded of those who are charged with protecting the rights of the people. Governor Bush pledged to uphold the Florida constitution as he understands it, not as it is understood by some Florida judges. He is the rightful representative of the people of Florida and he is the chief executive, in whom the power is vested to execute the law and protect the rights of citizens. He should use that power to protect Terri's natural right to live, and he should do so now

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