On the first day of March, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that the Constitution prohibits states from executing cold-blooded killers who commit their crimes before they turn 18. Before the month was out, he received an appeal asking whether a Florida judge could order death-by-dehydration for 41-year-old Terri Schiavo, who had committed no crime.
Under the special law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush early Monday, Kennedy had the authority, as the justice overseeing appeals out of Florida, to personally order Schiavo’s food-and-hydration tube reinserted pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit to determine whether her constitutional rights were being violated. On Holy Thursday, Kennedy pulled a Pontius Pilate–referring the case to the full court, whose nine members have previously voted 5-4 to declare partial-birth abortion a constitutional right. The court ruled against Schiavo, but declined to explain its reasoning or reveal how justices voted. March 2005 will define Kennedy’s historical legacy. Generations hence will remember him thus: He spared killers, and killed the disabled.