Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The war on the judiciary

Via Atrios, here's Santorum on the district court judge's refusal to grant a temporary restraining order in the Schiavo case:

What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo," the Pennsylvania Republican explained. "That means he has to hold a new trial. That's what the statute said....Judges should obey the law. And this judge - in my mind - simply ignored the law.

What's remarkable about this is that this isn't what the law said at all. This is the important part of the statute:
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida shall have jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment on a suit or claim by or on behalf of Theresa Marie Schiavo for the alleged violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution or laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life....In such a suit, the District Court shall determine de novo any claim of a violation of any right...within the scope of this Act

In other words, the court is only authorized to rule on whether any federal rights have been violated. It is absolutely not authorization to hold a brand new trial. The "de novo" language only means that, even if another court has ruled that federal rights weren't violated, the district court should look at the claims anew.

This is pretty revolting. Santorum is a lawyer, and should be able to read a federal statute. What this means is that either he's actually incomparably stupid, or he's lying in order to stir up a war on the judiciary. The latter, of course, fits perfectly within conservative ideology (see also: recent bills to remove certain issues from the jurisdiction of federal courts). Santorum is trying to fit a correct decision, made in accordance with a statute that he just voted for, under the rubric of judicial activism. There are plenty of reasonable ways to critique "activist judges," but flat-out lying isn't one of them.

For all intents and purposes, 'judicial activism' has morphed into 'I didn't like the decision.'

UPDATE: via Thomas, it turns out Santorum was a sponsor of the bill. He sponsored a bill he didn't even understand

Or, of course, he's totally unprincipled and willing to lie to rile his base up.