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Diva Jeb got mad when the Supremes killed his plan to speed up executions. Related Gully Coverage

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supremes plus

The Supremes with Jeb Bush.

Election 2000

Florida Supremes:
Stop! In the Name of Jeb

by Chuck 45

NOVEMBER 16, 2000. Anyone who thinks politics is a serious business hasn't been paying attention. Only farce explains Clinton half-impeached for eating peaches, or the Second Coming of Elian eclipsing immigration law. Now, Harris the Heiress, Bush, and Gore have all brought in the Florida Supremes setting the stage for an epic Diana Ross-esque battle.

The Supremes just declined to get involved in the mess—Harris asked them today to halt manual recounts in Florida and they sent her packing to a lower court—but that's just for now. Sooner or later, they'll be dragged into the morass. After all, they still have Gore around their necks asking them to tell the counties when a pregnant chad is an African mom and when it's a vote.

Topping the Charts
The seven Florida state Supreme Court justices that may be doomed to settle the presidential horse race all have sonorous names you can luxuriously roll around your tongue: Harry Lee Anstead, Major B. Harding, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente, Peggy A. Quince, Leander J. Shaw, Jr., and Chief Justice Charles T. Wells. All were appointed by Democratic governors (one of them, jointly by Bush).

These Supremes have been center stage sparring for the last year and a half with Bush's younger brother Jeb, the Florida Republican Governor. The biggest recent catfight was a propos the death penalty, the Diva Jeb angered when the Supremes killed his plan to speed up executions by limiting death penalty appeals to one solitary year.

The Diva and the Republican machinery slugged back with a wicked dis campaign to discredit the court, while the Republican-heavy state legislature denied the high court funds it had requested to pay 43 lower court judges. Republican state legislators also tried, unsuccessfully, to strip the court of some of its power, and tip it in their favor by appointing two new members—not unlike Diana's failed tour.

State Republicans have vowed an all-out effort to get electors to dump Anstead, Harding, and Chief Justice Wells when they face statewide "merit retention" referenda in the next four years. No Florida Supreme has ever been booted as a result of such exercise, but you know how party hacks are, always as hopeful of beating the odds as any blue-rinsed Vegas machine-slotter.

Turning the Screws
florida supreme court
The Florida Supremes: Front row Justice Shaw Jr., Chief Justice Wells, Justice Harding. Back row, from left: Justice Lewis, Justice Anstead, Justice Pariente, Justice Quince.

Having to decide the presidential fate of the older Bush brother puts the court in a tight spot. A ruling against the Bush interests could be seen by public opinion not just as partisan, but snotty and mean-spirited. More ominously, it could turn Jeb's court-bashing into a full-fledged scorched-earth campaign against the Supremes (the Bushes never forget acts of lèse majesté.)

On the other hand, were the court to produce a wishy-washy hiccup of a ruling, throwing back the hot potato on Katherine Harris' lap, public opinion may see it as a case of Bush appeasement, and justices targeted for electoral extermination by the state Republican machine risk not getting a single Democratic vote, or greenback when they need them.

There is, of course, a third way: that the court's decision, whatever it may be, is argued in such brilliant, pristine, judicially unassailable terms that doubters shut up, public opinion cheers, and the losing party is forced to swaddle its saber. If they pull that off—up from the swampy partisanship now oozing from the Deadlock State—I see U.S. Supreme Court written in bright letters in some of their futures, maybe even if they do sink in the swamp: to the victor the spoils, and the gratitude.

You go, girls!

Related links:

For The Supreme Court of Florida. Including bios of Justices and pictures galore.

For The Supremes, at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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