- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Supreme Court yesterday announced that it will hear a Bush administration challenge to an Oregon law that allows doctors in that state to help terminally ill patients commit suicide.

More than 170 people have legally committed assisted suicide in Oregon since the state passed its “Death With Dignity Act” in 1998. Oregon is the only state with such a law.

In agreeing to hear the administration’s challenge to the law, the justices said they will review a lower court ruling that bars the federal government from pressing criminal charges against doctors who prescribe overdoses to help people die more quickly.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for the high court’s next term, which begins in October.

Although the justices agreed to take on the sensitive assisted suicide issue, they effectively sidestepped a politically explosive one yesterday by refusing to reopen the landmark Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion in 1973.

The justices rejected the challenge to Roe v. Wade brought by Norma McCorvey, the Texas woman once known as “Jane Roe,” who had appealed to the high court to overturn the ruling.

Despite winning the right for women to choose abortion more than 30 years ago, Ms. McCorvey is now a vocal opponent of the procedure. In 1992, the last time the Supreme Court reviewed Roe v. Wade, the justices upheld the fundamental constitutional right of women to choose.

At the time, three of the high court’s standing members — Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — sought to have the ruling overturned. The justices offered no comment yesterday when issuing their refusal to review the case again.

In other action yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to review several other cases, three of which carry First Amendment implications:

• The justices declined to review the constitutionality of a 1998 Alabama law banning the sale of sex toys. The American Civil Liberties Union, arguing on behalf of merchants and sex toy users, sought to have the law overturned on the grounds that an earlier Supreme Court ruling protects sex toy users from the intrusion of state laws in the privacy of their homes.

• The justices declined to weigh in on a Florida city’s zoning law that attempted to bar churches and synagogues from locating in a downtown business district. The city law has been unenforceable since a lower federal court ruled it discriminatory. The case involves two synagogues that preferred downtown locations close to members’ homes because Orthodox Jewish tradition bars driving on the Sabbath and Jewish high holidays.

• The justices declined to review a National Park Service policy that asks visitors not to walk near Utah’s Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest natural bridge, out of respect for American Indian religion. Several Indian groups, including Navajos and Hopi Indians, consider the bridge a sacred site.

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