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Judicial aftershocks from the Schiavo case

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"An enormous spotlight and an enormous amount of pressure have been placed upon the judiciary, and yet they have behaved in a lawlike fashion," says Charles Baron, a Boston College law professor and expert in right-to-die issues. "These judges, if you look at their record, are not people who have records as being right-to-diers or left-wing activist judges. These are people who wrote opinions that track the law."

But others say that some judges appear to have avoided confronting serious, substantive legal issues by relying on formalistic devotion to legal process.

"The judiciary, both state and federal, have failed miserably in the Schiavo case," says Virginia Armstrong, national chairman of the Eagle Forum's Court Watch. "It is one of the poorest performances we have ever seen in American justice."

Supporters of the judiciary's performance in the Schiavo case note the large number of state and federal judges involved. They say familiar conservative-liberal distinctions do not seem to have played a major role in the outcome, particularly at the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where seven of the 12 judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

"It is not like the judges appointed by one kind of president are voting one way and judges appointed by a different kind of president are voting a different way," says Vikram Amar, a constitutional law professor at San Francisco's Hastings College of the Law.

Perhaps the biggest irony of the case was the extent to which conservative, pro-life lawyers acting on behalf of Schiavo's parents sought to persuade federal judges and justices to embrace an expansive constitutional right to life that would mandate affirmative steps to protect Schiavo's life. According to some analysts, it would have necessitated the same kind of liberal reading of the Constitution that upheld a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade - a constitutional holding denounced by conservatives as the epitome of judicial activism.

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