Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Roberts’ Rules of Guile

[[L A W]] * This story just goes to show how careful senators must be when they’re deciding whether to confirm a new U.S. Supreme Court justice--or not. According to the Portland Oregonian, last August Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) had a conversation with then-Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr., after which Wyden pronounced himself confident that “in cases dealing with end-of-life care, [Roberts] would ‘start with the supposition that one has the right to be left alone.’” This was important, because Oregon is the only state in the Union that permits physician-assisted suicide. In 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft, a religious conservative, had sought to suspend the licenses of doctors who prescribed life-terminating medications under the Oregon law. However, a federal judge blocked Ashcroft’s anti-state’s rights move, and that block was subsequently affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments from both sides last fall.

A final decision on the issue came down just yesterday, with the high court ruling 6-3 in favor of Oregon, upholding its 1994 Death With Dignity law. As The Washington Post reports, “The ruling struck down one of the administration’s signature policies regarding what President Bush calls the ‘culture of life’ and lifts the last legal cloud over the state’s law, which is unique in the nation. It also frees other states to follow in Oregon’s footsteps, unless Congress acts to the contrary.”

So, how did the new chief justice--whom a reassured Wyden eventually chose to confirm--vote in this landmark case of individual rights versus government intrusion? Well, he was one of the three dissenters, joining ultraconservatives Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in arguing that Ashcroft’s efforts to criminalize the dispensing of life-ending drugs was legally appropriate. “If the term legitimate medical purpose has any meaning,” Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion, “it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.”

As Salon’s War Room notes, both Thomas and Scalia also claimed during their confirmation hearings that they had no political agendas, but their votes since have shown those statements to have been cunning, rather than candid. Senators--Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, especially--ought to keep this Roberts turnabout in mind, as they weigh statements made by Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. that he will keep “an open mind” in matters dealing with Roe v. Wade.

Trusting George W. Bush’s nominees can prove to be as difficult as trusting the prez himself.

READ MORE:Assisted Suicide Case Shows the Administration’s True Colors,” by Glenn Greenwald (Unclaimed Territory); “The Assisted-Suicide Decision” (The New York Times); “Assisted-Suicide Decision May Bring New Effort to Washington,” by Carol M. Ostrom (The Seattle Times).

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