By JOHN SOLOMON
WASHINGTON – In an extraordinary plea, George W. Bush’s lawyers today asked the nation’s nine justices to bring “legal finality” to the presidential election by overturning the Florida courts and ending any further ballot recounts.
Al Gore’s team countered that the U.S. Supreme Court should not interfere in Florida’s recount dispute, arguing the issue that will decide the White House winner “does not belong in federal court.”
Three days before the nation’s highest court hears arguments, both sides filed final written arguments.
Republican Bush asked the justices to overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling that allowed hand recounting of votes to continue past a state imposed deadline of Nov. 14, saying the manual reviews opened the door for Democrat Gore to continue legal contests for weeks more.
“The Florida Supreme Court’s decision, which conflicts with both federal statutes and the federal Constitution, will thus continue to affect, and has the theoretical potential to change, the outcome of the presidential election in Florida, and thus the nation,” Bush argued.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified Bush the winner Sunday by a 537-vote margin out of 6 million votes after the manual recounts were done. If that stands, the state’s 25 electoral votes will give Bush 271 in all – one more than he needs to win the White House.
Bush’s lawyers noted that Gore is now contesting the election, even after the extended deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court, and seeking additional hand counting of thousands of disputed ballots.
The Texas governor’s attorneys told the justices that reversing the Florida court ruling was neded to bring an end to the election dispute.
“Reversal by this Court would restore the legislatively crafted method for appointing electors in Florida to its status prior to November 7, would allow the completion of the proper selection of presidential electors in Florida according to the plan contemplated by the Constitution, and would aid in bringing legal finality to this election.”
Bush attorneys also argued that the Florida high court violated the Constitution by extending a “clear” vote recount deadline set in law by the state Legislature to ensure proper election of the state’s 25 electors to the Electoral College.
The Constitution, the Bush brief said, gave that power solely to the Legislature, and the court improperly vacated the deadline when it allowed hand recounts to continue in three Democratic-leaning counties for 12 days beyond a state deadline of Nov. 14.
“The Florida Supreme Court thus consciously and boldly overrode Florida’s ‘laws enacted prior to’ election day and replaced them two weeks later with laws of its own invention,” the brief said.
Gore’s lawyers dismissed those arguments as “insubstantial” and said the Florida court had “played a familiar and quintessentially judicial role” in interpreting state law. They asked the justices to affirm the ruling and avoid trampling on what is supposed to be a matter of state law.
“Principles of federalism counsel strongly against interference by this court,” the Gore legal team said in its brief.
In hand recounts, Volusia and Broward Counties completed the job; Miami-Dade gave up for lack of time; and Harris refused to accept partial hand recount numbers from Palm Beach, which didn’t meet the deadline.
The Gore team, in its brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, urged the justices not to undue the recounts as Bush has requested. They argued that Bush’s request is based on “mischaracterizations” of the state Supreme Court ruling a week ago.
“This is a state law case that, despite its undoubted importance, does not belong in federal court,” they argued.
Gore’s brief to the nation’s highest court came as his legal team followed a duel strategy that also asked a Florida judge to undo the secretary of state’s certification Sunday night.
In that case, Gore asked a state judge to have court officials or judges hand recount several thousand disputed ballots that did not get resolved prior to a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline for recounting to end.
Bush attorneys said there is no need to recount the ballots and have opposed the Gore lawyers.
The certification of Bush as the winner by 537 votes lowered the stakes for the Supreme Court. A narrow ruling by the high court that rejected results of the hand recounts would not change the outcome now.
The case is not technically moot, because a Supreme Court ruling would guide how both candidates go forward in Florida courts.
Also today, interest groups across the ideological map filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union backed the Florida court.
The conservative American Center for Law and Justice backed Bush.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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