Liberals went into high whine mode when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Republican George W. Bush's appeal in the 2000 Florida vote dispute. They said the high court lacked grounds to agree to hear the case.

But, as it turns out, it had ample grounds, more grounds than anyone knew. Traditionally, the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case to resolve different lower court rulings, if it is of great importance or if there's an important constitutional question involved.

However, as the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist noted, granting certiorari is really a "subjective decision," or as the late Justice John Marshall Harlan said, "a matter of feel."

Justice Antonin Scalia cited a heretofore unknown but important criterion: national pride.

Scalia unveiled the new criterion at a supposedly off-the-record chat last week at Time Warner headquarters with Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine and Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons and numerous journalists.

On the 5 to 4 ruling in Bush v. Gore that made Bush president, New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove reports that Scalia said: "What did you expect us to do? Turn the case down because it wasn't important enough? Or give the Florida Supreme Court another couple of weeks in which the United States could look ridiculous?"

Ah, yes, the old appearance-of-ridiculousness standard.

A Humble Oath

Freshman Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) created quite a fuss when she called decorated Marine war veteran Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) a coward for proposing a prompt withdrawal of troops from Iraq. She then sheepishly apologized to Murtha.

But this was not the real Schmidt in action, certainly not from her days back in Dayton, where her nickname "Mean Jean" was surely just an affectionate moniker for a likable pol.

We recall her maiden speech on the House floor back in September, "humbly" thanking House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) "for allowing me to address this humble body."

"We will not always agree on the details of that work. Honorable people can certainly agree to disagree," she said in brief remarks.

"However, here today I accept a second oath," she said. "I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price.

"So at this moment, I begin my tenure in this Chamber, uncertain of what history [history?] will say of my tenure here," she said humbly. ". . . I pledge to each of you that any disagreements we may have are just that and no more."

Well, maybe a little more.

Plame to Retire

Word is Valerie Plame is going to retire from the CIA on Dec. 9 after 20 years at the agency in the operations directorate -- the cloak-and-dagger folks -- including a decade or so in a "non-official cover" status or NOC, which involves setting up lots of cover, an always-difficult task, and even more so now in the age of Google.

The retirement frees her up to reflect a bit in public about all that's happened since columnist Robert Novak blew her cover.

An Old Deal

The news out of North Korea in September was that U.S. diplomats had scored a major breakthrough, obtaining a tentative agreement laying out how North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons and Washington and its partners would offer aid, security assurances and the like.

Turns out New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) says he got the same deal back in January 2003, according to his new memoir, "Between Worlds."

"I was going back and forth on the phone with [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell," Richardson writes, "and, in the end, we got a small breakthrough. Fortunately, it was never announced.

"We had agreed on a broad framework for progress -- an economic assistance package and a still-to-be-defined security guarantee against a U.S. attack in exchange for verifiable movement on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program. The North Koreans also backtracked," on other demands, Richardson recalled -- though his memory has been a bit suspect of late.

"A final deal would involve heavy negotiations. The administration, pushed by Powell, initially approved bilateral discussions. But apparently Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went ballistic. No way, they said. The talks had to be multilateral."

And so they were.

Quotable

"We don't agree on every issue, but we do agree we should discuss our differences and our likenesses in a cordial manner."

-- President Bush, meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last week

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao welcomes President Bush to the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing.