The End in Sight?

Rarely have Americans gotten such a helping of judicial opinion - and perhaps never on an issue of more immediate concern.

After two hours of arguments last Friday - which were quickly broadcast to the public, a welcome break with precedent - the US Supreme Court this week issued a brief, and studiously inconclusive, ruling.

It was a paragon of judicial self-restraint, with the justices unanimously asking Florida's Supreme Court to clarify how it arrived at its decision to allow further hand-counting of ballots.

The Florida high court should have little problem retooling its decision to satisfy its federal counterpart.

The Florida court's bigger task is to rule, again with great speed, on the appeal of a trial court judge's rejection of Al Gore's contest of the certified presidential-election result in the state. The judge, N. Sanders Sauls, essentially turned aside every argument that the Gore legal team had for restarting the vote counting.

The state Supreme Court's response to Judge Sauls' findings of fact and legal reasoning should be, very nearly, the final act in a remarkable drama. The only other unfinished episodes involve disputed absentee ballots in another couple of counties.

We've said before that Americans' patience during this complex process has been admirable. The end is now in sight, with next Tuesday, Dec. 12, a deadline that all sides apparently agree on. On that day, a final selection of the state's 25 Electoral College electors is scheduled to be made.

That's not to say, however, that the next few days won't hold any surprises. Judges have the prerogative of unpredictability.

What should average citizens be drawing from all this?

A fresh conviction, perhaps, that their system of government, even when presented with unprecedented legal wrangling and inflamed political passions, can still work the details through its institutional machinery and come out with a result that may not please everyone, but honors the rule of law.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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