Thomas Sowell

IN THE OLD MOVIE CLASSIC "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," armed men confront Humphrey Bogart, claiming to be police.

"If you're policemen," he asked, "where are your badges?"

"We don't need no stinkin' badges!" is the reply.

On December 1st, the Supreme Court of the United States asked the Florida Supreme Court to tell them what legal authorization they had for ordering a recount. No answer. But, exactly one week later, the Florida Supreme Court again ordered a recount. What they were saying to the U. S. Supreme Court was: "We don't need no stinkin' authorization!"

The Florida Supreme Court's own chief justice, in a bitter dissent, said that the 4-3 majority's decision "has no foundation in Florida law." They don't need no stinkin' foundation! Another dissenter, Justice Harding, declared that, under the Constitution of the United States, "neither this Court nor the circuit court has the authority to create the standards by which it will count the under-vote ballots." They don't need no stinkin' standards!

Long before this election, the Florida Supreme Court was notorious for its headstrong judicial activism. They have gotten away with exceeding their authority for so long that it may be hard for them to accept that they are still under the law, just like everyone else. As far as they are concerned, they don't need no stinkin' badges.

One of the reasons judicial activists get away with ignoring the law and imposing their own pet notions instead is that much of the mainstream media treat the actions of judges as automatically legitimate and all criticism of them as undermining the rule of law. Even after the United States Supreme Court said that the Florida legislature has every right to select who to send to the electoral college as the state's electors, great outcries continue about what a terrible thing this would be.

It was not the Florida legislature, but the Florida Supreme Court, which has turned a simple close election into a constitutional confrontation.

If anything good comes out of all this, it may be a demonstration of what chaos can be generated by a few judges who rush in where angels fear to tread, and take over the decisions which the written law gives to executive officials like the Secretary of State or to the state legislature. Whether in Florida or elsewhere, this is done by verbal sleight-of-hand. Anyone whose authority the judicial activists want to usurp can be cynically declared to have "abused" his or her authority, thus allowing judges to take over and make decisions that the law gave to others.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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