Despite morale-boosting claims in the mainstream media that the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous ruling didn't really do anything -- or, as Al Gore put it ("Twilight Zone" theme music here), was "neutral," perhaps even "favorable" -- the opinion kicked the air out of the Supreme Court of Florida (SCOFLA).
For one thing, the Supreme Court vacated the SCOFLA's silly ruling. It didn't have to do that. The court could have remanded with instructions without vacating. The court could have declined to review the decision altogether -- as scores of legal "experts" swore up and down it would.
Not least of all, the court could have affirmed the opinion as a proper exercise of the SCOFLA's judicial powers. To quote Florida's learned state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her enlightening appearance on CNN's "Crossfire," it could have sneered: "(T)here is something called the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. And the judicial branch -- unfortunately, Gov. Bush doesn't realize this -- but the judicial branch interprets the laws."
The U.S. Supreme Court apparently didn't realize this either: It vacated that genius exercise of "separation of powers and the system of checks and balances" as practiced by the SCOFLA. And it helpfully recited the Constitution and federal law as little signposts the SCOFLA might want to consider next time.
Though the Supreme Court repeatedly invoked the deference normally accorded state courts, it invariably followed those touching professions of respect with the word "but."
After one such irrelevant tribute to the nobility of state courts, the Supreme Court said, for example: "But in the case of a law enacted by a state legislature applicable not only to elections to state offices, but also to the selection of presidential electors, the legislature is not acting solely under the authority given it by the people of the state, but by virtue of a direct grant of authority made under Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution."
Get it? You're not Czar of the Universe anymore, SCOFLA. A presidential election is a federal issue, a matter committed to the state legislatures by the U.S. Constitution -- and if you try to usurp the role of the legislature, the real Supreme Court is ready to reverse you.
It's going to be an adjustment. Back during the halcyon days when it seemed immune from review, SCOFLA's hearing in this case resembled nothing so much as a Soviet show trial. One of the "justices" impertinently demanded of Bush's attorney: "What are the laws in Texas, Mr. Carvin?"
What do you say to that? She may as well have asked the lawyer if he didn't think "19" was a prettier word than "seven."
For those of you who know absolutely nothing about the law -- well, first of all, you ought to move to Florida and wait to be tapped for its supreme court. But as a legal point, the election laws of other states have no bearing on the laws of Florida. None whatsoever. The election laws of Uganda have as binding a legal effect in Florida as the laws of Texas.
In "interpreting" the Florida election code so as to impose a 19-day deadline where the actual law had required a seven-day deadline, the kangaroo court may as well have declared war on Canada. And the real Supreme Court most likely would have issued a similar ruling: "As a general rule, this court defers to a state court's interpretation" of the law -- but not if the state court declares war on Canada. See, e.g., the Constitution.
Most amusingly, the U.S. Supreme Court professed confusion over the SCOFLA's ruling -- the one it went ahead and vacated just to be on the safe side. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these guys understand the Law of Perpetuities. Turgidity is their life's work. But they didn't understand the SCOFLA's opinion? Oh, OK.
While claiming total befuddlement, the Supreme Court indicated that it sure hoped the court hadn't ignored the Constitution and federal law! This is how parents discipline small children: I sure hope no one's reading under her covers after bedtime! The face-saving directive was clear to all but the willfully blind.
Of course, the SCOFLA found the meaning of the word "seven" to be an impenetrable mystery, so there's no assurance that subtlety will work with these guys. But there is one entity for whom we can be pretty sure the Supreme Court's ruling will not be a devilish puzzle -- the Florida Legislature.
As the Supreme Court reminded the world, the Constitution provides that states "shall appoint" presidential electors "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct." So knock yourself out in Seminole County. Exclude votes from the military, taxpayers, all registered Republicans. The Florida Legislature has the last word.