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A law is unconstitutional where it encroaches on the power of the judicial branch. A law is also unconstitutional where it delegates legislative power to the governor. The legislature is permitted to transfer subordinate functions to permit administration of legislative policy by an agency with the expertise and flexibility to deal with complex and fluid conditions. However, under Fla. Const. art. II, § 3, the legislature may not delegate the power to enact a law or the right to exercise unrestricted discretion in applying the law. This prohibition, known as the non-delegation doctrine, requires that fundamental and primary policy decisions be made by members of the legislature who are elected to perform those tasks, and that the administration of legislative programs must be pursuant to some minimal standards and guidelines ascertainable by reference to the enactment establishing the program. In other words, statutes granting power to the executive branch must clearly announce adequate standards to guide in the execution of the powers delegated. The statute must so clearly define the power delegated that the executive is precluded from acting through whim, showing favoritism, or exercising unbridled discretion. The requirement that the legislature provide sufficient guidelines also ensures the availability of meaningful judicial review.
Theresa Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990. The underlying litigation, which has pitted Theresa's husband, Michael Schiavo, against Theresa's parents, turned on whether the procedures sustaining Theresa's life should be discontinued. On October 21, 2003, the Legislature enacted chapter 2003-418, the Governor signed the Act into law, and the Governor issued executive order No. 03-201 to stay the continued withholding of nutrition and hydration from Theresa. The nutrition and hydration tube was reinserted pursuant to the Governor's executive order. On the same day, Michael Schiavo brought the action for declaratory judgment in the circuit court. Relying on undisputed facts and legal argument, the circuit court entered a final summary judgment on May 6, 2004, in favor of Michael Schiavo, finding the Act unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to Theresa. Specifically, the circuit court found that chapter 2003-418 was unconstitutional on its face as an unlawful delegation of legislative authority and as a violation of the right to privacy, and unconstitutional as applied because it allowed the Governor to encroach upon the judicial power and to retroactively abolish Theresa's vested right to privacy.
Was chapter 2003-418 which allows the Governor to issue a stay to prevent the withholding of nutrition and hydration from a patient under specific circumstances unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to Theresa?
The court held that the Governor's executive order effectively reversed a properly rendered final judgment and amounted to an unconstitutional encroachment on the power reserved for the judiciary. Further, it inappropriately delegated legislative power to the governor. In all, 2003 Fla. Laws ch. 418 contained no guidelines or standards to limit the Governor from exercising completely unrestricted discretion in applying the law. Further, the legislature failed to provide any criteria for lifting the stay. This absolute, unfettered discretion to decide whether to issue and then when to lift a stay made the governor's decision virtually unreviewable. Second, the legislation did not provide an additional layer of due process protection to those who were unable to communicate their wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. The law did not even require the Governor to consider a patient's wishes, but instead allowed a unilateral decision by the Governor to stay the withholding of life-prolonging procedures without any procedural process to the patient. Finally, the legislature's grant of authority to issue the stay under 2003 Fla. Laws ch. 418 was not a valid exercise of the state's parens patriae power.