The Florida Supremes' Early Christmas Present

Analysis of breaking news events.
Dec. 8 2000 7:00 PM

The Florida Supremes' Early Christmas Present

One thing you have to hand the Florida Supreme Court--they underline the important bits. In today's opinion in Al Gore v. Katherine Harris, the Florida court underlined anything a reporter might need to know in 12 seconds of review. Media savvy, no?

In short: The Florida court found that the trial court erred as a matter of law in not counting the 215 Palm Beach County votes for Gore, the 168 votes from the Miami-Dade partial recount, and the 9,000 ballots from Miami-Dade, which have never been counted manually. All that is enough to reduce Gov. Bush's lead to 154 votes. That plus the counting of "all undervotes" in all the counties where hand counts have not occurred could certainly turn the tide in favor of Gore.

The majority is careful (this time) to invoke the federal Constitution. Right off the bat, they haul out Article II, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution, which directs the state legislature to select electors. And which allows the judiciary to resolve any problems in the contest period. (See Section102.168, [ahem]). They are letting us know that they are playing by the legislature's rule book this time.

The majority ruling sort of covers the waterfront. They mock Bush for changing legal theories midway. They mock state court judge Sauls for refusing to examine the disputed ballots, saying that he "presented the plaintiffs with the ultimate catch-22," acceptance of the only evidence that could allow them to prevail and the refusal to examine it. Then the court breathes deeply and reverts to their old touchstone, a wee jig called "intent"--woo woo--"intent." The amazing postscript? It's not Gore's fault that Palm Beach Couldn't Count Fast Enough.

(BTW--There is a history of bad blood between Sauls and the Florida Supremes.)

In sum, the Florida court, invoking nothing less than the "essence of the structure of our democratic society," manages to keep the ball in play.

Chief Justice Wells' dissent? An oblique threat that the majority ruling "cannot withstand scrutiny under the U.S. Constitution." Plus some rumbly threats of "damage to country." And so forth. And Major Harding closes his own dissent with a quote from the ever-quotable Vince Lombardi, to wit: "We didn't lose the game, we just ran out of time."

Tick-tock.

James Baker in his little Brutus cut is already taking it to the Supremes. And Jebby's guarding the henhouse.

My call?

Catch me Tuesday, on Maryland Avenue, for Round 2 of the Supremes versus Florida. (And this time it's personal.)