Every week in the United States, innocent men are sentenced to death, either directly by lethal injection or indirectly by being given prison terms far longer than any human's natural life. Every week in the United States, rapists, murderers and child molesters are set free on technicalities, hung juries and smooth lawyering.
However, for almost every week, no one does anything about it.
The reason is that we have a justice system in place. It is imperfect, as is any system run by human beings, but it is there for a reason and it has a set of rules that it has to follow. Order must be preserved, the rule of law must be followed and, most importantly, everyone must be equal before the eye of the court.
Of course, we all understand that, in reality, not everyone is equal before the court and the recent Terri Schiavo only further illustrates that fact.
Simply put, Mrs. Shiavo's parents have something that no rape victim or innocent death row inmate will ever have, an act of congress to give them one more shot at getting the verdict they want.
For anyone else in the country, the case would be settled. Mrs. Shiavo's parents have had their day in court, many of them in fact, and have consistently lost as judge after judge has found in favor of Mrs. Shiavo's husband. Under current law, the case had gone as far as it could and was, in effect, over.
But Congress, like many Americans, decided it didn't like the verdict and was vocal about it, which is a fundamental right of every American. However Congress, unlike the rest of America, decided that it was going to do something about it and that it had the authority to intervene directly.
In effect, our legislature bent the laws governing the separation of powers and gave Terri's parents a “do over”. More to the point, they kicked the case over to federal court, even after a federal judge had repeatedly said he didn't have jurisdiction over the matter, effectively twisting the judicial system in a bid to get the verdict they want.
Yes, the Shiavo case deals with some difficult issues and, yes, the outcome of it is uneasy, as is any outcome in such a matter. However, that is what judges are for, to listen to the facts, look at the law, consider the best interest of the party involved and make difficult decisions in very charged cases. Not every verdict is loved or even liked, but that is no excuse for people who know little about the facts of the case to step in and undermine the system.
What makes the Shiavo case so different isn't that there was an unpopular verdict, but rather, that it deals with a politically charged issue and has spent so much time in the news. It's no longer about Shiavo, her family or even the right to die, it's about politicians looking good for the voters, even if it means ignoring nation-wide problems, bending constitutional limitations on their power and overruling judges who know far more about the case than they.
Congress' job, supposedly, is to make laws, not enforce them. However, they've sent a clear message that, if they don't get the verdict they like in a controversial case, they'll just keep using their powers until they either get the verdict they like or they run out of judges to put it in front of.
Worse still, the federal judge who gets the case has a clear idea of what verdict Washington D.C. wants and his position is directly appointed by the President with approval from Congress. Like an employee critical of his boss' plan, he has no chance of being impartial because his livelihood is on the line.
But perhaps the greatest injustice of all is that, if Congress is so hell-bent on using its power to manhandle the justice system, there are plenty of cases where justice was clearly denied. Given all of the times the justice system has obviously failed us, a series of Florida judges making unpopular decisions in a very difficult and controversial case seems rather minor.
In the end, this is an abuse of power in the worst possible way. It's a bending of the constitution, a trampling of our judicial system and a thumb to the eye of every citizen denied justice. All for a case with no easy answer and no hope for a happy ending.
No one can find justice when the judicial system is undermined and those who undermine it have forsaken the ideals it was founded upon. However, that's exactly the situation we're heading for if this type of bullying is allowed to continue.
Because, as imperfect as our justice system is, we have to let it work. Piecemeal justice means justice for none but those who are somehow deemed worthy. There's no way for everyone to be equal in such an environment and equality, supposedly, is our most cherished value of all.