A Lawyer’s Viewpoint on the Veto
A publication of the University of Pittsburgh Law School, The Jurist
, ran an interesting column (for those of you who follow legal affairs) about the stem cell research funding bill veto and its Constitutionality (or lack thereof). Some of the comments on it indicate that readers do not all agree with the writer (Elizabeth Price Foley
of Florida International University College of Law) about the legal issue, but here are some notable excerpts:
“The Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court for the last thirty-three years, does not recognize pre-viable embryos as “human life.” Although there has been fierce continuing debate about when constitutionally cognizable life begins, the law has remained essentially unchanged since the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, when the Court declared that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”
“We have, in short, a constitutional right to decide whether we want to bear or beget children. And there is no such thing, constitutionally speaking, as a pre-viable “child.””
“when a President vetoes a law because he disagrees with the constitutional rights the law acknowledges, he violates his oath of office and assumes near dictatorial power over both the legislative and judicial branches. By vetoing the stem cell bill, President Bush was not preserving, protecting, and defending our Constitution: he was giving it the finger.”
According to the brief bio at the end of the column, Foley “was formerly a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Stem Cell Guidelines.” Which qualifies her to say a hell of a lot more about this than me…
I think this is an interesting way to approach the veto, particularly coming on the heels of an ABA (American Bar Association) panel that concluded the Bush administration is eroding the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. (One report is on CNN
.) Seen in this way, the stem cell veto becomes not just an issue for science but also for jurisprudence, American democracy, and frankly, for all citizens. If a president can veto a constitutional bill on the basis of personal moral feelings, that sets a really bad precedent for the president as representative of the people. The next president, whether liberal or conservative, could do the same with a bill that has more immediate implications. This was at least just a limit on funding and not on the research itself—but that could come next.
I would love to see a research university sue the government on these grounds. If corporations can file suit when federal regulations on the environment are not in their favor, scientists should do the same.