Kangaroo Coup

Posted: Nov 23, 2000 12:00 AM

After having denounced the Florida Supreme Court as a corrupt and dishonest kangaroo court long before its lawless ruling earlier this week, I feel a kind of relief that they didn't prove me wrong. Still it's breathtaking how totally detached from any sort of legal reasoning its decision is.

While taking a sledgehammer to the law, this Warren Court on steroids insisted it was engaging in a delicate and serious balancing analysis, affording due concern to competing interests.

Except that -- as fate would have it, that's not their job. The Florida Legislature had already engaged in a balancing test. And it came to a different conclusion.

Taking into account many and various factors -- finality, accuracy, sore losers demanding interminable recounts and so on -- the lawmaking body resolved that counties would be permitted to indulge in all the recounting they please, but they had to have their election returns in seven days after the election. That scheme was enacted into law, signed by the governor and is now known as a "law."

But Al Gore lost the election, and then lost the recount, and then lost the absentee ballot returns, and finally lost all the manual recounts that could be completed within seven days. On day seven -- the last day for election returns to be counted -- Al Gore was still the loser. So he asked the Florida Supreme Court to give him more time to keep recounting, relying on Bill Daley's genetic vote-counting skills to eventually make Gore the winner.

The problem was that pesky seven-day deadline (known as the "law"). Gore's lawyers marched into the Florida Supreme Court and asked it to abrogate the unambiguous seven-day deadline put on the books by the other two branches of government. This was not a matter of interpreting a law, or resolving a conflict, or filling in a blank space in the law. What Gore requested, and what the kangaroo court granted, was nothing but a judicial coup.

The legal sophistry used to paper over the court's defiant ruling was -- as Gore had argued -- that since the law permits recounts, it must permit recounts to go on and on and on, until the loser can finally steal enough votes to win or the whole country dies of exhaustion. Q.E.D.

Manual recounts are, admittedly, permitted by Florida law. That just doesn't happen to mean there's no deadline. Al Gore may as well have argued that because there's Christmas shopping, there's no such thing as Christmas. You can shop all you want, but Christmas imposes a deadline. Florida counties can indulge in recounts to their heart's desire, but seven days after the election is the deadline.

To put the law in terms understandable to Al Gore: Democrats are permitted to steal all the votes they want before Election Day: They can give homeless people cigarettes in exchange for votes, they can register felons and illegal immigrants, and they can count "dimpled chads," animal entrails, ballots pulled out of disappearing vote-o-matics. But they have to steal all the votes they're going to steal by 5 p.m. seven days after the election.

If the party apparatchiks still haven't stolen enough votes for you to win by 5 p.m. seven days after the election, you have to stop arguing and go home. Gore certainly found birds of a feather in the Florida Supreme Court. It appears that the justices' mental acuity has been impaired from the loud engine noises of all those ambulances they spent their illustrious legal careers chasing. The chief justice of that court gave $500 to Clinton-Gore in 1992, but did not recuse himself from a case in which Gore is a party. (At least this reversed the usual flow of funds one expects in such a state supreme court.)

As was roundly expected, the justices were confused by clear statements of the law. What did the Legislature mean when it says "Returns must be filed" on the seventh day after the election? What does "all missing counties shall be ignored" connote? And, more to the point, how can we help Al Gore steal the election?

The answer to that question: Repeal the seven-day deadline emphatically required under the law, so the Democrats have sufficient time to pull about a thousand more Gore votes out of their hats.

The Florida Supreme Court may as well have issued an opinion purporting to make Ralph Nader Supreme Commander of the United States. As with the hapless elderly voters confused by the butterfly ballot, we can smile in amusement at the doddering justices, but the Florida Legislature, governor and secretary of state still have to abide by the law. And the law says the deadline was last Tuesday.