Court ruling may close door on Gore

By RON FOURNIER

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Al Gore and running mate Jospeh Lieberman planned to issue a statement today after a divided Supreme Court reversed a state court decision for recounts in Florida’s contested election Tuesday night, all but transforming George W. Bush into president-elect.

William Daley, the vice president’s campaign manager, issued a statement saying Gore and Lieberman were reviewing the ruling and "will address the court’s decision in full detail at a time to be determined tomorrow."

But even so, as the night wore on, some top aides said privately the vice president would be forced to depart the race. "That’s where every discussion is headed," said one.

The Texas governor and running mate Dick Cheney were "very pleased and gratified" with the court’s ruling, said former Secretary of State James Baker, representing Bush. "This has been a long and arduous process for everyone involved on both sides," he added in remarks that stopped well short of either a declaration of victory for Bush or a call for a concession from the vice president.

Aides said Bush wasn’t planning to make a statement before Gore’s planned reaction Wtoday. If Gore concedes, Bush plans a unifying speech that would be low-key and gracious in tone, aides said.

Supreme Court justices, in a late-night decision, said the recount ordered last weekend by the Florida Supreme Court could not be completed by a midnight deadline for selection of presidential electors and still pass constitutional muster.

"It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work," the justices wrote. Its ruling came with exceptional haste for the court, the day after it heard arguments in the case.

In a forceful dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the law."

The ruling was the latest pivot point in the nation’s deadlocked election, a saga of counts, recounts, lawsuits by the dozens and two trips to the highest court in the land. Without Florida’s 25 electoral votes, neither Bush nor Gore had the votes in the Electoral College needed to become president. With them, victory was a certainty.

The court’s unsigned opinion said seven justices agreed there were constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on Friday.

The justices said that because Florida lawmakers intended separately to complete their own choosing of electors, perhaps by today, requiring a new recount "could not be part of an appropriate" remedy.

By a 5-4 majority, the justices said the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court was unconstitutional because varying methods and a loose standard would be used to count the votes. Further, the justices said no time remained for a new recount.

"Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional … we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed," the court said.

In the majority were Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Dissenting were Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Alongside the unsigned main opinion, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas went further in a separate opinion, saying the Florida Supreme Court also violated the Constitution and federal law in ordering the recount.

But Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said simply, "Clearly the race for the presidency has come to an end. George Bush is going to be the next president of the United States."

Laurence Tribe, a Gore lawyer, told NBC-TV he disagreed with the decision, but "I think the courts’ place in our lives is such that we all should rally around even if we disagree with the results."

In Florida, meanwhile, the state House approved a resolution that would send the Bush electors to the Electoral College if he lost in the high court. The Florida House approved the resolution, 79-41, and the Senate moved toward a possible vote today.

A few blocks away, Gore’s options were reduced further when the Florida Supreme Court refused to disqualify thousands of absentee votes, many of them for Bush. Democratic attorneys had challenged the ballot applications, and Gore had expressed sympathy with the case.

The ruling meant the U.S. Supreme Court was Gore’s last stand.

Tuesday was a deadline of sorts for states to certify their presidential electors, but both sides were focused on Dec. 18, when the Electoral College will cast its presidential votes, and on an early January deadline for Congress to count them.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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