Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Supreme Court Rebukes Administrative Branch

It was with some concern that I blogged about a case that had been pending in the Supreme Court, pertaining to Oregon's assisted suicide law.  My concern was not about the assisted suicide per se; rather, I was concerned about the implications for the balance of power.  Specifically, it appeared that the federal government was trying to supersede traditional State regulation of medical practice.  Moreover, it appeared that they wanted to give a law enforcement agency -- the DEA -- the authority to make medical decisions.  

Now, it turns out that SCOTUS did not support these extensions of federal authority.  In a 6-3 decision, the majority of justices rebuked our former attorney general, John Ashcroft (now a highly compensated lobbyist, making $100,000 per month, bless his soul).  
Kennedy suggested that Ashcroft set the stage for a "radical shift" of state power to the U.S. government.  [...]

The ruling in the Oregon case comes amid a national debate over the breadth of the executive branch's power, particularly Bush's authority to order domestic wiretapping without court approval to fight terrorism.

The decision revealed that most of the court — even without O'Connor, who was in the majority Tuesday — is concerned about moves to expand executive authority.

"At one level this is a very technical, dry case about when deference is owed (to an executive interpretation of federal law). But Kennedy is trying to rise above the technicalities to make a point about executive overreaching," said Vikram Amar, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. "Kennedy likes to remind people of the big picture."
This "very technical, dry case" has a great many implications.  For one, it shows why the Alito nomination is so important to a man who would be an imperial President.  For another, it illustrates why it is important to understand the implications of a law on an abstract level, rather than focusing on the day-to-day practical application of the law.  

The justices correctly determined that the essential feature of this case, in fact, was not about physician-assisted suicide.  One could argue the issue of assisted suicide for decades, and still not cover all the implications.  But the SCOTUS decision was not about assisted suicide.  It was about the balance of power -- within our government, but also within society at large.

In fact, the term "assisted suicide," in the context of the Oregon law, is a misnomer.  The patient are not committing suicide, in the sense that neither they, nor their physicians, are determining whether they will live or die.  Rather, they are influencing whether they will die today or tomorrow, in comfort, or later in the week, in pain.  To call that suicide is really an overdramatization.