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Judicial aftershocks from the Schiavo case

Perceptions of how the courts handled the case could have ramifications for Bush's judicial nominees.

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In the end, as Terri Schiavo clung to life in her Florida hospice after nearly two weeks without food or water, 12 years of legal battles came down to one final appeal.

In a 15-page emergency brief, lawyers asked the US Supreme Court to vindicate Ms. Schiavo's constitutional right to life. The high court's answer came Wednesday around 11 p.m. Application denied.

Ten hours later, Schiavo passed away.

In the emotional moments after the announcement, pro-life and disability-rights supporters lashed out at a judicial system that they said was being run by activist judges who favor death over life.

House majority leader Tom DeLay went one step further. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," he said Thursday. He called upon the Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation of what he says is "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."

But was the Schiavo case influenced by so-called "activist" judges who allowed their ideological convictions and policy preferences to overshadow the law and influence the outcome of the case? Legal analysts are divided on the issue.

Perceptions of how the Schiavo case was handled are important - for one, because they could play a key role in looming battles in the US Senate over President Bush's judicial nominees, and a potential Supreme Court vacancy. Those battles may begin as early as this week, with the conservative camp somewhat split over the propriety of congressional intervention in the Schiavo case.

Religious conservatives are angry and primed for a fight. But many other conservatives were alarmed at what they saw as federal intervention into a private family matter that has historically been entrusted to state courts and state judges.

Many legal analysts say that for the most part, judges performed their duties as neutral, dispassionate arbiters of the law.

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