"However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning a question of law. In the end, and no matter how much we wish Mrs. Schiavo had never suffered such a horrible accident, we are a nation of laws."
The way the American legal system is structured is such that the trial is when the facts of the case are argued. It's the only shot each side has at arguing the facts in the case. Once the jury or a judge makes a decision on the facts, those findings are generally not relitigated absent extraordinary circumstances.
In the appeals process that follows, the judges decide only whether or not what happened in the previous court was correct under the law -- that the interested parties have received due process under the law.
In the case of Terri Schiavo, which has gone through the state of Florida's appeals process and up to the Supreme Court of the United States, and then after a statute was passed by Congress --which was signed by President Bush -- continued through the federal appeals process and is now in front of the Supreme Court again.
That statute, Goldblatt points out, did not give the 11th Circuit Court original jurisdiction over the case. Judge Whittemore was not responsible for deciding whether Michael Schiavo has a right to act on his wife's behalf. That was decided in the original trial. The statute was giving the federal court jurisdiction to decide if the procedure by which that was decided was unfair.
"The federal district court was deciding whether or not to order a preliminary injunction," explained Chemerinsky. "The appellate court, then, was looking at whether the district court abused its discretion."
Goldblatt concluded, "Any assumption from the start that the federal courts were going to necessarily redetermine the case was unreasonable."