The controversial decision, the first of its kind in the 210-year history of U.S. representative government, was, according to Justice David Souter, "a response to the clear, demonstrable incompetence and indifference of the current U.S. citizenry in matters concerning the operation of this nation's government."

American Focus

As a result of the ruling, the American people will no longer retain the power to choose their own federal, state and local officials or vote on matters of concern to the public.

"This decision was by no means easy, but it unfortunately had to be done," said Justice Antonin Scalia, who penned the majority decision in the case. "The U.S. Constitution is very clear: In the event that the voting public becomes incapacitated or otherwise unfit to carry out its duties of self-governance, there is a danger posed to the republic, and the judicial branch is empowered to remove said public and replace it with a populace more qualified to lead."

"In light of their unmitigated apathy toward issues of import to the nation's welfare and their inability to grasp even the most basic principles upon which participatory democracy is built, we found no choice but to rule the American people unfit to govern at this time," Scalia concluded.

The controversial ruling, court members stressed, is not intended as a slight against the character of the American people, but merely a necessary measure for the public good.

"The public's right to the best possible representation is a founding principle of our nation," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told reporters. "If you were on a jet airliner, you wouldn't want an untrained, incompetent pilot at the controls, and this is the same thing. As federal justices, we have taken a solemn oath to uphold every citizen's constitutional rights, and if we were to permit an irresponsible, disinterested public to continue to helm the ship of state, we would be remiss in our duties and putting the entire nation at risk."

Just some of the millions of empty voting booths that can be seen across America each November.

The ruling brings to an end a grueling 10-month process, during which more than 100 Supreme Court hearings were held to determine the public's capacity for self-governance. Despite the fact that these hearings were aired on C-SPAN, a majority of U.S. citizens were unaware of them because coverage was largely eclipsed by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the retirement of NBA legend Michael Jordan, and the release of Titanic on home video.

The Supreme Court found that, though 78 percent of U.S. citizens have seen the much-anticipated Star Wars prequel trailer, only one in 200,000 were aware that the multibillion-dollar "Star Wars" missile-defense system had been approved by Congress. Additionally, while 62 percent of citizens correctly identified the cast of Suddenly Susan, only .01 percent were able to identify Attorney General Janet Reno beyond "some woman Jay Leno always says looks like a man." Further, only .0003 percent could correctly identify the ancient Greek city-state of Athens as the birthplace of the concept of an educated citizenry participating in democratic self-rule.

But the final straw, Supreme Court justices said, came last week when none of the 500,000 random citizens polled were aware that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had threatened global thermonuclear war in response to NATO air attacks in Yugoslavia.

"I mean, come on," Justice William Rehnquist said. "Global thermonuclear war? It's just ridiculous. There was just no way we could trust such a populace to keep running things after that."

Populations currently being considered to fill the leadership void until the American people can be rehabilitated and returned to self-governance include those of Switzerland, Sweden and Canada.

"I'm willing to do what I can to help out in this time of crisis and make sure that my vote counts," said Stockholm resident Per Johanssen. "I've been reading up on America a bit, just to get a general idea of what needs to be done, and from what I can tell, they really need some sort of broad-based health-care reform over there right away."

In a provisional test of the new system, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan will hold primaries next Tuesday to re-evaluate last fall's gubernatorial election in Minnesota.

The lone dissenting vote came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who, in his minority opinion wrote, "Although the American people are clearly unable to make responsible decisions at this time, it is not their fault that they are so uninformed. Rather, the blame lies with the media interests and corporate powers that intentionally keep them in the dark on crucial issues."

Kennedy concluded his opinion by tendering his immediate resignation and announcing his intent "to move to a small island somewhere."

Thus far, reaction to the ruling has been largely indifferent.

"The people ruled unfit to govern? Yeah, I I think I might've heard something about that," said Covington, KY, sales representative Neil Chester. "I think I saw it on the news or something, when I was flipping past trying to find that show about the lady sheriff."

"If you ask me, voting was a big pain anyway," agreed mother of four Sally Heim of Augusta, ME. "At least now I'm free to do my soap-opera-trivia crossword puzzles in peace, without all that distraction about who's running for Second District Alderperson and what-not."

Despite the enormous impact the ruling would seem to have, many political experts are downplaying its significance.

"It doesn't really change anything, to be honest," said Duke University political-science professor Benjamin St. James. "The public hasn't made any real contributions to the governance of the country in decades, so I don't see how this ruling affects all that much."

"I wouldn't worry about it," St. James added. "It's not that important."