Conservatives are hypocrites, they charge. The Right opposes judicial activism and preaches states’ rights. But in Terri’s case, the Right clamored for judicial activism and rejected states’ rights.

But this is absurd. The judicial activist in Terri’s case is Greer, who sentenced a brain-damaged woman to death by starvation and dehydration. If this is not judicial activism, in violation of a citizen’s right to life, due process of law, and not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, what is? ~Pat Buchanan

It is just this sort of antipathy to judges, even when they follow what the law (however objectionable) requires, and the hyperbolic use of words such as “execution” that put me at odds with Mr. Buchanan’s view. What happened to Mrs. Schiavo is lamentable, but whatever it was it was not an execution by the state. It was fundamentally a refusal of the state to become any further involved in this dispute, leaving Mrs. Schiavo’s fate, as we have been reminded so many times, in the hands of her legal husband. Judge Greer cannot be an activist judge, or else the meaning of activist judge does truly become “a judge who has decided something with which I disagree.” It must mean a judge who tramples on or ignores the law to substitute his own opinion, ideology or notions for the law.

Mr. Buchanan’s appeal to a litany of constitutional rights, the rights Mrs. Schiavo’s parents invoked in their rejected appeals in federal court, as well as the interpretation of these rights that many pro-life activists have uses the language and methods of liberalism. The constitutional rights Mr. Buchanan has invoked, while worthy in themselves, have no place here. These rights are properly legal protections against actions by the federal government. It is the government cannot deprive a person of life, liberty or property without due process. It is the government that cannot rightfully inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The remedy Mr. Buchanan seeks can be found only through criminal or civil court: either a prosecutor must bring charges against Mr. Schiavo for murder, or a civil court must find for the parents for the wrongful death of their daughter.

There should be a law that allows for a medical guardian to be stripped of his legal rights when he seems demonstrably to no longer be acting in the best interests of his ward, as certainly seemed the case with Mr. Schiavo, but if there is not such a provision it is not the fault of the judge whose task was the interpretation of the existing statutes. The fault is not with activist judges but with negligent or foolish legislators.

Constitutional rights do not properly, in the conservative understanding of those rights, apply to protecting individuals from one another, which is essentially what the lawyers for Mrs. Schiavo’s parents expected the courts to do. There are, or ought to be, other protections in place to provide that measure of law and order. Contorting constitutional rights has been the business of liberals. It is hardly the time to begin imitating their bad example.