Pendulum swings back to Bush


Cox News Service

WASHINGTON – In yet another extraordinary twist in the presidential election saga, a divided U.S. Supreme Court halted Florida’s hand recount of ballots Saturday and set a Monday hearing that could prove to be the final battleground of the historic dispute.

The 5-4 high court ruling came at 2:45 p.m., immediately freezing a frantic scramble to recount some 45,000 Florida ballots that had begun just hours earlier. That halt dealt a hard blow to Al Gore’s hopes of erasing George W. Bush’s thin lead in Florida.

The decision confirmed what many legal experts have predicted for weeks – that America’s closest and most highly contested presidential election in more than a century may ultimately be decided by the nation’s highest court.

Bush was declared the winner in Florida by a 537-vote margin on Nov. 26. But Gore filed a lawsuit contesting Bush’s victory, arguing that thousands of questionable ballots should be hand recounted to determine the voters’ intent.

With the deadline looming for the nation’s Electoral College to choose a president on Dec. 18, the Supreme Court established a compressed timetable to resolve the case.

Lawyers for Bush and Gore were ordered to appear for oral arguments at 11 a.m. Monday, a day before the deadline for determining Florida’s decisive 25 presidential electors. Written briefs are expected to the high court by 4 p.m. toSday.

With the nation closely divided over who should be president, the high court in its 5-4 decision appears clearly fractured over its role in deciding the election.

Siding with the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia signaled in a statement accompanying the stay that Bush “has a substantial probability of success” in prevailing before the court in his appeal. Bush’s lawyers had argued in papers filed before the court that allowing the recounts to go forward would taint any outcome of the election.

“One of the principal issues in the appeal we have accepted is precisely whether the votes that have been ordered to be counted are, under a reasonable interpretation of Florida law, ‘legally cast votes,’ ” Scalia wrote, adding: “Count first, and rule upon legality afterward, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.”

In the dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote: “To stop the counting of legal votes, the majority today departs from three venerable rules of judicial restraint that have guided the court throughout its history.”

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas and Scalia voted to halt the counts. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Stevens dissented.

Just minutes before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling, Gore had won a legal victory before the federal appeals court in Atlanta. In an 8-4 ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Bush’s request that the court reconsider its decision reached Wednesday.

In its prior ruling, a divided 11th Circuit rejected appeals asking that the recounts be halted and declared unconstitutional on claims the process violates due process and equal protection protections.

Within minutes of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, counting teams across Florida halted their work, with cheers going up in several places where Bush supporters had gathered to watch the proceedings.

Gore campaign officials and lawyers expressed disappointment.

“The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the land,” said Gore attorney David Boies in Tallahassee. “Under the rule of law we must accept that decision whether we agree with it or disagree with it.”

Boies said his team’s argument to the U.S. Supreme Court would likely focus on three main points: that there is no federal question involved because the case is only about Florida state law; that the Florida Supreme Court has not changed state law; and that the issue isn’t whether the nation’s high court agrees with the Florida high court, but only whether that court has acted in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner.

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