FOR A TIME, Carl Lewis was the fastest human on earth - but not fast enough to live simultaneously on opposite coasts.

As an Olympian with nine gold medals, he rivaled Fort Knox. But his past triumphs - track-and-field gold in the 1984, '88, '92, and '96 Olympics - should not allow Lewis to hurdle the laws of New Jersey, where he now lives. (Texas and California are where he spent most of his adult life.)

That's what I think, but two out of three judges on a U.S. district court disagree. It happens they were appointed by a Democrat, which is what Lewis is, while the dissenting judge was appointed by a Republican. But all that's just a coincidence, right?

The handsome, 6-foot-3 Lewis was a stellar athlete and is by all accounts a decent man, but that shouldn't buy him an exemption from the law, and that's what seems to have happened, although it's not a certainty.

Lewis, 50, caught a break that would not have come to Joe Shmoe.

But Jersey Democrats wouldn't have drafted Joe Shmoe as their candidate for state Senate. They got Lewis because of his name and fame, which reflects on our celebrity-crazed culture. Many other "unpolitical" people have been saddled and run for office.

To make this nonpartisan, Jersey Republicans recruited former Eagles offensive tackle Jon Runyan (who was listed as the NFL's second-dirtiest player by Sports Illustrated in 2006; good basic training for Washington). Runyan, who won, was drafted for name and fame, plus conservative credentials. But he was a legal resident of the state.

Is Lewis? That question sits on his head like a laurel wreath.

Jersey law requires a candidate for state Senate to be a resident of the state for four years.

Lewis' attorney, William Tambussi, said Lewis bought a couple of condos in 2005, suggesting that that conferred residency. (Some years back, for fun, I bought one square inch of Texas real estate. I also have a cowboy hat. That doesn't make me Rick Perry.)

More to the point, Lewis closed on his Medford home on Nov. 16, 2007. Election Day this year is Nov. 8, which means that even if Lewis had moved into his Medford house on the very day he closed, he's still a week short of four years on Election Day.

But if you end the four-year countdown on Inauguration Day instead of Election Day, Lewis slides under the bar. That was mentioned by U.S. Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, who noted that Joe Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate when he was 29, but that he turned 30, the minimum age for Senate service, before he was sworn in.

The lower court "incorrectly applied a rational basis standard of review," Ambro wrote in his order, "rather than the stricter compelling state interest standard" regarding "this particular candidate."

Fishing for a justification, Ambro rejected the "rational" in favor of the "compelling state interest," which seems to mean that New Jersey has a desperate need for a celebrity candidate, Carl Lewis. That's who "this particular candidate" is.

Why bother writing laws if they are so easily swept aside? I can see making a rare exception in cases of unusual duress, but that's not what happened here. The rich and famous guy had a friendly bench.

Two important final facts: 1) Two years ago, Lewis voted in a California election, something that only California residents can legally do. 2) Lewis didn't start paying New Jersey income taxes until 2009. Either he didn't live in New Jersey before that, or he was a tax cheat. Nice choice.

Two out of three judges didn't care. Maybe they scrounged up some lame justification because it made them feel good.

Or maybe they wanted an autograph.