St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Republicans flex subpoena muscle

Published March 19, 2005

  JUDGE GEORGE GREER: The judge presiding over the case is a churchgoing conservative Republican. A former Pinellas County commissioner, he ran unopposed for the bench in 1992. At FSU, he shared a house with Jim Morrison of the Doors.

GEORGE FELOS: The Dunedin lawyer representing Michael Schiavo has handled at least 10 right-to-die cases since 1991. He wrote a book titled Law as Spiritual Practice. Felos regularly practices yoga and usually meditates for a half-hour daily.

DAVID GIBBS III: A board member of the Christian Law Association, Gibbs became the Schindlers' primary lawyer in September. He is a leader of Citizens for Decency, which pushed a ban on public nudity in Hillsborough County last year.

TOM DeLAY: Known as the Hammer, the Texas Republican started his career in the pest control business and rose to become House majority leader. An aggressive partisan, he led the push to impeach former President Bill Clinton.

TOM DAVIS: Davis is chairman of the Government Reform Committee, which launched an investigation into Schiavo's case Friday. From 1998 to 2002, the Virginia Republican ran a committee responsible for electing Republicans to the House. He is considered a moderate.

MIKE ENZI: Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, the Wyoming Republican sent the Schiavos a one-paragraph letter Friday inviting them to appear at a March 28 hearing. He was elected to the Senate in 1996.

GRAPHIC: Subpoenas for Michael and Terri Schiavo to appear before congressional hearings.
In Terri Schiavo's room, quiet
Tube is removed after a chaotic day
Schiavo Web rumor pegs Rice as a villain
Republicans flex subpoena muscle
Absences rise, but school goes on amid Schiavo hubbub
An image to make stomachs tighten
Vigil of prayer and passion
Times Editorial: Dangerous demagoguing
Terri Schiavo: Complete coverage
What are your thoughts? Share them in our guestbook
Decision day: Photo gallery

By using subpoenas in an attempt to keep Terri Schiavo alive, congressional Republicans flexed extraordinary political muscle.

Two congressional committees plan to hold hearings about Schiavo and the House chairman says the subpoenas are needed to "preserve evidence."

But it was clear Friday that congressional leaders had another motive: to get her feeding tube reinserted until Congress or a court can take more permanent action that keeps her alive.

Congress has long had the power to subpoena witnesses to conduct investigations and carry out its oversight responsibilities.

But law professors said that authority has rarely been used for anything except investigations and hearings. They could recall only one similar subpoena, issued in 2000 for Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban boy who was caught in a custody fight between his father, a Cuban citizen, and Miami relatives who wanted the boy to remain in the United States.

In that case, Rep. Dan Burton, the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed the boy to prevent him from being returned to Cuba. But the boy's Miami relatives won temporary legal custody that rendered the subpoena unnecessary. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ultimately ordered Elian returned to his father in Cuba.

On Friday, House Republicans said they planned to hold a hearing on March 25 at the Pinellas Park hospice where she is staying. They subpoenaed Schiavo, her husband, Michael, and her doctors.

The subpoenas specified that the witnesses bring to the hearing "all medical and other equipment that provides nutrition and hydration ... in its current and continuing state of operations."

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who chairs the Government Reform Committee, said it was "a legitimate legislative inquiry."

But other House Republicans indicated they hoped the maneuver would keep her alive. "Right now, murder is being committed against a defenseless American citizen in Florida," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should be immediately replaced, and Congress will continue working to explore ways to save her."

The Senate took similar action by requesting that Schiavo and her husband testify at a separate hearing scheduled for Monday at the hospice. Senate aides said that would give the Schiavos protection of federal witnesses so that no one could remove her feeding tube.

Three law professors said Congress was improperly using its subpoena power.

Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University, said Congress was using the power to intervene in the case, not gather information. She said Florida courts have ruled that Schiavo's husband has the authority to exercise her constitutional rights, but Congress was trying to intrude. "The subpoena power can't be used to deny someone their constitutional rights," Cheh said.

She said that if Congress was allowed to do this, it could also use subpoena power to block a woman from having an abortion or prevent demonstrators from protesting the president.

Stetson University law professor Charles Rose said that if a congressional subpoena can be used to keep her alive, Congress would essentially have blanket power to overrule state courts.

"If you do that, why have a state at all?" Rose said. "Why not just have the federal government do everything? It's absolutely contrary to every principle of federalism." Rose said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer made the right decision to follow through with his order to allow her feeding tube to be removed.

"Greer followed his responsibility as a member of the judiciary of the state of Florida," Rose said. "To do anything else would be to roll over and knuckle under to what is arguably an abuse of federal power."

Greg Magarian, a law professor at Villanova University Law School, said Congress was grandstanding.

"I have a hard time seeing how Congress could use subpoena power to work its will this way," he said.

[Last modified March 19, 2005, 01:02:12]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters