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Fla. Loses Feeding Tube Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to reinstate a Florida law passed to keep a severely brain-damaged woman hooked to a feeding tube, clearing the way for it to be removed.

The Florida Supreme Court had struck down the law last fall, and justices were the last hope for state leaders in a bitter long running dispute over the fate of 40-year-old Terri Schiavo.

Her husband, Michael Schiavo, contends she never wanted to be kept alive artificially. But her parents told justices in a filing that their son-in-law is trying to rush her death so he can inherit her estate and be free to marry another woman.

The Supreme Court did not comment in rejecting an appeal from Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued the state had the authority to step in and pass the 2003 law that ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted six days after her husband had it removed.

"There isn't much Florida now can do to stop the removal of the feeding tube," reports CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "I suppose there can be another request for an injunction, perhaps on other legal grounds, but you have to figure that the best legal arguments already have been made and rejected and at some point the courts and the politicians will simply have to back off."

Terri Schiavo has lived in nursing homes. She can breathe on her own but depends on a feeding tube to stay alive because she cannot swallow on her own.

In dispute are whether she is in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery, and if she had said before her illness that she did not want to be kept alive by machines.

Washington attorney Robert Destro, representing Florida, told justices to consider "the most vulnerable of our citizens who cannot speak for themselves."

Michael Shiavo did not file any arguments with the court, but his attorney had accused Florida leaders of engaging in delaying tactics to prevent Terri Schiavo from carrying out her right to die.

"By refusing to hear the case, the justices aren't endorsing what Michael Schiavo wants to do, although that clearly is the effect of this order," reports Cohen. "And now the Florida governor and legislators have to make a decision about whether they want to try some other avenue to maintain the status quo, although there clearly are very few avenues left open."

Terri Schiavo collapsed from a chemical imbalance due to an eating disorder 14 years ago and left no written directive.

In other Supreme Court news:

  • The justices declined Monday to consider whether states may offer license plates with anti-abortion messages, leaving lower courts divided over whether the programs in a dozen states unconstitutionally restrict dissenting views.

    Without comment, justices let stand a lower court ruling that said South Carolina's license plates, which bear the slogan "Choose Life," violate the First Amendment because abortion rights supporters weren't given a similar forum to express their beliefs.

    The high court's move means that South Carolina will either have to eliminate the specialty plates or begin offering plates with abortion-rights views. That ruling is at odds, however, with a decision by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which essentially allowed the plates because it said abortion rights advocates didn't have standing to bring a lawsuit in the case.

  • In other ruling, the court gave police broader search powers during traffic stops, ruling that drug-sniffing dogs can be used to check out motorists even if officers have no reason to suspect they may be carrying narcotics.

    In a 6-2 decision, the court sided with Illinois police who stopped Roy Caballes in 1998 along Interstate 80 for driving 6 miles over the speed limit. Although Caballes lawfully produced his driver's license, troopers brought over a drug dog after Caballes seemed nervous.

    Caballes argued the Fourth Amendment protects motorists from searches such as dog sniffing, but Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed, reasoning that the privacy intrusion was minimal.

  • The court asked federal courts to reconsider sentences for hundreds of defendants who contend they were wrongly punished under a sentencing system the court declared unconstitutional earlier this month.

    Justices instructed the lower courts to review more than 400 appeals from defendants sentenced for crimes ranging from drug possession to theft and securities fraud. They had argued that judges had improperly boosted their sentences based on factors that had not come before the jury during trial.

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