The U.S. Supreme Court stunned the nation today with a 5-4 decision holding that Al Franken -- until recently the Obama administration's ambassador to the Vatican -- was the official winner of the 2008 Minnesota Senate contest.

The court held that lower courts had erred by refusing to count three decisive absentee ballots for Franken found two years ago jammed in the filter of a Brooklyn Park woman's vacuum cleaner. "Every vote must count," proclaimed Chief Justice Al Gore, who read his 936-page decision from the bench.

The court's decision closes an epic seven-year struggle filled with legal twists and turns unparalleled in our nation's history.

Coleman appeared to hold a decided advantage in the contest after he won the actual vote count in 2008. But as the dispute dragged on, the events following Election Day proved largely irrelevant -- minor skirmishes leading up to the legal, political and public relations battle that was to follow.

After the seventh recount of the vote was completed in September 2009 -- settling nothing since both candidates challenged every vote cast -- Franken filed simultaneous legal proceedings in state and federal courts, before the European Commission of Human Rights and with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 2010, Coleman suffered a setback when the Supreme Court issued its first decision on the contest. In what became known as the "Franken's Fools" decision, the court held that even those absentee ballots that voters forgot to mail must be counted.

No forgotten ballots were ever recovered, but Franken's crack legal team assembled a group of Harvard psychologists who submitted expert testimony at trial establishing that the average Franken voter was twice as likely as the average Coleman voter to be chronically forgetful about life's basic tasks. Statisticians extrapolated on this disparity to convince the court that Franken had been unfairly deprived of 147 votes.

In 2011, Coleman staged a comeback with his 23 "Every Coleman Vote Counts" booths at the Minnesota State Fair. The venture's success proved short-lived, however, when a team of U.N. election observers -- composed of Zimbabwean and Iranian monitors and led by former President Jimmy Carter -- investigated reports that Coleman operatives were offering a pound of cheese curds for each Coleman absentee ballot found.

The Coleman campaign disavowed knowledge of such practices. Ultimately, though, it voluntarily discontinued the effort after it was revealed that Coleman's absentee vote tally from the State Fair operation exceeded the adult population of Minnesota.

Coleman's last big push for votes -- the Hail Mary effort that produced this morning's Supreme Court decision -- was his "Working Together to Get Things Done" campaign, introduced in April 2013 as an opportunity for supporters to scour their garages for stray Coleman ballots and finish off their spring cleaning at the same time.

Through the cleanup program, Coleman's vote total eventually pulled even with Franken's. The decisive moment came when Coleman neighbor Herb (Buck) Anderson claimed to have found the soiled remnants of three absentee ballots near a mouse hole in the back of his garage. Former FBI investigators on retainer to the Coleman campaign were able to reconstruct the ballots and prove through forensic analysis that the markings in the Coleman ovals were lead-based, while the Franken markings were chemically consistent with mouse droppings.

A one-vote Coleman win seemed assured based on the so-called "Buck ballots," until Anderson's wife, Alida, stepped forward with the three Franken ballots that had been jammed in her vacuum cleaner filter. It was these ballots that eventually resulted in today's Supreme Court decision. The Andersons' divorce was finalized last year.

Reached for comment in Hollywood on the set of the new reality show he's jointly producing with 89-year-old Playboy founder Hugh Hefner -- tentatively titled "The Viagra Monologues " -- Franken explained that his Senate campaign had been satire all along and referred further inquiries to his accountant.

Coleman, who is living temporarily in an ice-fishing shack he rents from a well-heeled GOP contributor, could not be reached.

The Supreme Court's decision is, of course, largely symbolic, since the 2008 U.S. Senate seat term expired last year.

Katherine Kersten • 612-673-1774 Join the conversation at my blog,