Is this the end?

The Supreme Court denies a request for an order to re-insert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. The political repercussions of the case have just begun.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 24, 2005 3:35PM (EST)

The Supreme Court has just denied the request by Terri Schiavo's parents for an order to re-insert their daughter's feeding tube. In a brief order, the court said: "The application for a stay of enforcement of judgment pending the filing and disposition of a petition for write of certiorari, presented to Judge Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, is denied."

The order was not unexpected. The justices had declined several previous opportunities to involve themselves in the Schiavo case -- but that was before Congress passed emergency legislation purporting to give the federal courts jurisdiction over the matter.

In the application they filed late last night with the Supreme Court, Schiavo's parents argued that, in adopting that legislation, Congress intended for the courts to order the re-insertion of their daughter's feeding tube. Republican members of the House of Representatives joined in that argument, filing an amicus brief with the court in which they said that the Schiavo bill "clearly required" that the federal courts issue a temporary restraining order "to ensure that desperately needed nutritional support is provided to Terri Schiavo to keep her alive."

Although the Supreme Court apparently either rejected that argument or concluded that Congress was powerless to dictate such an outcome, the maneuver by House Republicans should give Democrats pause the next time they rely on the word of the GOP in the legislative process. To persuade Michigan Sen. Carl Levin not to block the Schiavo legislation, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist insisted last week that the legislation would leave the courts free to make their own decisions about any injunction. That's the opposite of what the House Republicans told the Supreme Court.

In the end, it didn't matter. Schiavo's parents needed the votes of five justices. It's clear that they didn't get them. What's unclear is whether they got any votes at all. The Supreme Court's ruling does not reflect the justices' votes on the matter. If the ruling was the unanimous work of a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, it would strike a blow to those on the right who would use the Schiavo case as ammunition in the war against "activist judges." At the very least, we can be certain that at least five justices decided not to grant the Schiavo application; mathematically, at least three of them had to be appointees of Republican presidents. (And it bears noting here that one of George W. Bush's most controversial nominees, former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, had a chance to take a stand in the Schiavo case when it went before the 11th Circuit -- and didn't.)

The Supreme Court's one-sentence ruling, issued just before 10:30 this morning, seems to dispose of the entirety of the case Schiavo's parents have put before the court. If that's correct, then the Schiavo spectacle is finally reaching its conclusion. Republicans say there's nothing more they can do on the federal level, and Jeb Bush's strange last-minute machinations in Florida seem to be going nowhere. This could be the end -- for Terri Schiavo and for the religious right's efforts to extend her life.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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