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Election wrangle was bound to delay the holiday

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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000

I wholeheartedly endorse the suggestion of Ellen Goodman, the Boston Globe columnist, that we now should get an extension of Christmas to make up for the time we lost to the presidential mess. Unfortunately, nothing is that simple...

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Sunday against any extension of the Christmas holiday, defeating attempts by voters who had asked for more time for shopping after being distracted by the presidential election dispute.

In a 5-4 split, the nation's high court ruled that the date of Dec. 25 was inviolate, because the Florida Legislature had recognized only that date as the legal holiday.

"If the Legislature had meant to hold Christmas later than Dec. 25, it would have said so," said the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. "As we all know, anything the Florida Legislature says is absolutely tops by us."

Joining Rehnquist in the majority were justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Scalia wrote a scathing concurring opinion, saying: "What kind of nitwits are these people?"

Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer voted to extend Christmas, agreeing with the Florida Supreme Court's ruling two days previously that the precise date of Dec. 25 was only a "hypertechnicality."

The ruling sets aside the Florida court's decision to hold Christmas on a county-by-county basis, with each county setting its own standards for how to celebrate the holiday.

In turn, the Florida court had overturned the ruling of Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls denying any relief to the petitioners. Sauls had also ordered all the gifts removed from Whoville, but that order was set aside.

In Tallahassee, the state Legislature immediately ended a special session that had been called to name the Christmas holiday directly if necessary.

The state House already had voted for a resolution titled, "Christmas Will Be on Dec. 25 No Matter What Any Bunch of Fool Judges Say."

Legal experts said the fatal flaw in the Democrats' strategy was their original petition to extend Christmas only in selected Florida counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. (Volusia finished its shopping in time, prompting the other three to say: "We HATE anybody so organized.")

In the meantime, Secretary of State Katherine Harris ruled that Christmas "must" fall on Dec. 25, although Democrats challenged that ruling in court as well. They cited a different section of the statutes that suggested the secretary "might" be able to name a different date.

In the meantime, Republicans sued in federal court to block any extension at all. Their claim was denied by a federal district judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. However, they were successful in the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last week that the Florida Supreme Court "had better give us a durn-tootin' good reason."

The Florida Supreme Court ignored that order and on Friday overruled Harris and ordered the statewide, county-by-county Christmas. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and ended matters once and for all.

The case raised complex issues. Although Christmas is a federal holiday as well, legal precedent suggested that the ultimate decision lay with the Florida Legislature under the 10th Amendment (all powers not given to Congress "are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people").

A CNN/Washington Post/Gallup/Zogby Poll found that 58 percent of Americans considered the court's decision "political," but that 74 percent were willing to accept it as "legitimate." Another 22 percent said they "did not have time to answer any stupid poll because Christmas is one week away." The rest said they voted for Ralph Nader.

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