Vermont senators oppose congressional role in Terry Schiavo case

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(Host) Both of Vermont’s U.S. senators say they oppose legislation involving Congress in the controversy over Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. Senators Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy say it’s inappropriate for Congress to attempt to overrule a state court. They say the new legislation creates a dangerous precedent.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) None of the three members of the state’s congressional delegation rushed back to Washington this weekend to vote on legislation calling for a review of the Schiavo case by a federal judge. The bill was adopted by a voice vote in the Senate on Sunday and by a wide margin in a roll call vote in the House very early Monday morning. President Bush then signed it into law.

The legislation calls on a federal judge to review the case to determine if Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube should be reconnected. Last Friday it was disconnected following a ruling by a state judge in Florida.

Jeffords says he has great sympathy for the Schiavo family but he says Congress has no role to play in this case:

(Jeffords) “I believe sincerely that the federal government should not get involved with situations which traditionally are handled in the states and by the state law. And I don’t think the federal government ought to get involved.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords says believes the case has become politically charged because Terri Schiavo’s plight has been taken up by a number of anti-abortion groups:

(Jeffords) “I can’t help but feel that it’s politically oriented towards the issue of when life begins and all those things that we have so many difficult arguments over. But it looks to me like a political angle relative to abortion and matters like that.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords also feels that this case establishes a very bad precedent:

(Jeffords) “A broad precedent that could be sweeping. If you say that the federal government wants to get involved in state issues, they can just come in when they want to and do it. That [would] raise havoc with our traditions.”

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy was not available for comment. In a written statement Leahy said he feels it’s a mistake for Congress to override state court decisions and to intervene in individual cases. Leahy urged members of Congress not to take further action in the event that they don’t like how a federal judge rules in this case.

The office of Congressman Bernie Sanders issued no formal statement. Sanders is traveling in Germany and his Washington staff says they don’t know how he would have voted on this weekend’s bill in the House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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