Blogs > Liberty and Power > Bill of Attainder and Schiavo

Mar 19, 2005 10:19 pm

Bill of Attainder and Schiavo

A quick question for any wiser constitutional scholars than I: The Constitution expressly prohibits "Bills of Attainder," which are laws targeted at a specific person. Historically, of course, they were targetted in a negative way (e.g., declaring person X a traitor or such), so the Schiavo case may be different. Still, if Congress passes a law designed to save the life of a specific, named, person, isn't that an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder?

My quick bit of "legal research" suggests that the definition normally includes "punishment without trial," so that it's not just about naming a specific person, but about doing so for a nefarious purpose.

Even so, the notion of the whole Congress being called in to adjudicate a family tragedy like this really does step way over any line of the legitimate powers of the state, whatever the real meaning of a Bill of Attainder is.

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John Arthur Shaffer - 3/21/2005

Apparently the law just passed by Congress gave the Schindler's the ability to file a civil suit against Mr. Schiavo in federal court as well.

This seems to be an indirect bill of attainder. It punishes Michael Schiavo by giving federal standing in this one case only.

Chris Rasmussen - 3/20/2005

Well, since no one else has come up to the plate, I thought I'd post this.

The quote from Madison in Federalist 44 seems appropriate to the situation here, "They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators..." Especially the last part there about "enterprising and influential speculators" sort of sums up what the Republicans are trying to do tonight.

Sheldon Richman - 3/20/2005

It certainly is ad hoc and, according to my understanding, beyond anything in Article I, Section 8.