Quick ruling expected from highest court

Associated Press and The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In a case that could, finally, decide the presidency, George W. Bush’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court on Sunday to reverse a Florida high court decision that ordered a recount of thousands of disputed ballots. Al Gore’s attorneys told the justices that voters have the right "to have their ballots counted."

The justices hear arguments Mthis morning, the second historic session at the nation’s highest court in the Florida case that has dragged the election into a month of overtime. A quick decision is expected from the court.

"Further manual recounts … will not be accurate," Bush’s lawyers said in final briefs filed Sunday afternoon. They said the Florida Supreme Court, in a "crazy quilt ruling" that ordered the hand recount of more than 40,000 ballots statewide, made changes in state law that would lead to the use of "chaotic and unfair procedures" for counting votes.

"The Florida Supreme Court has not only violated the Constitution and federal law, it has created a regime virtually guaranteed to incite controversy, suspicion and lack of confidence not only in the process but in the result that such a process would produce," Bush’s lawyers said.

Gore’s lawyers countered: "Voters have important rights to have their ballots counted, and the magnitude of those rights dwarfs any due process claim (Bush and others) assert here."

"The Florida Supreme Court’s order does nothing more than place the voters whose ballots were not tabulated by the machine on the same footing as those whose votes were so tabulated. In the end, all voters are treated equally: ballots that reflect their intent are counted," Gore’s attorneys said.

Bush is asking the justices to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s stunning decision to call for late recounts of disputed ballots, which would give Gore a chance to wipe out Bush’s tiny lead and grab the Florida electoral votes and the presidency.

Justices have twice shown themselves to be sharply divided in the case: during the Dec. 1 argument in Bush’s first appeal, and again Saturday when the court voted 5-4 to stop the recount already under way in Florida and hear Bush’s new appeal.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted to hear the Bush appeal, wrote that the action suggested most justices believed the Republican "has a substantial probability of success." Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the dissenters, said the majority "has acted unwisely" in halting the recount.

But as so often has been the case in recent years, the outcome could come down to two last votes, those of Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy.

As both sides submitted briefs written overnight and hurriedly prepared for oral argument this morning in one of the most important cases to come before the high court, constitutional scholars and lawyers for both sides said that Gore’s only remaining hope for winning the presidency most likely hinged on persuading one of those two justices to back off from a position they endorsed as part of the five-justice majority.

Gore’s lead lawyer, David Boies, said the high court’s action Saturday suggests he has "a hill to climb" today.

Bush’s lawyers said the state court violated the Constitution and federal law when it ordered the hand recount of up to 45,000 ballots that didn’t record votes in an Election Day machine count and a later recount.

The court changed the rules after the election, allowed votes to be hand-counted by widely varying standards and trounced on the state legislature’s authority to decide how presidential electors are to be chosen, the Republican’s lawyers said. They also said the Florida Supreme Court lacked authority to act in the case at all.

Gore’s lawyers said the Florida court did not violate the Constitution or federal law, nor did it create new law that would conflict with standards set by the GOP-led state legislature, now poised to name its own slate of Bush electors if Gore prevails in court.

The case to be argued today could decide the next president since, if Gore prevails, the hand counting could continue and possibly help him overtake Bush, who leads by less than 200 votes.

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

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