Supreme Court sets aside Florida high court ruling


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today set aside a state high court ruling that permitted selective manual recounts in Florida’s contested presidential election, and sent the case back "for further proceedings."

Acting with unusual haste, the high court said that despite arguments by lawyers for both George W. Bush and Al Gore, "there is sufficient reason for us to decline at this time to review the federal questions asserted to be present" in the nation’s contested presidential election.

The ruling came as a state judge in Florida was preparing to rule on a more tangible issue — whether to grant Gore’s motion to overturn Bush’s certified 537-vote victory in the state that stands to pick the next president. Within minutes, Judge N. Sanders Sauls relayed word his own ruling would be delayed while he attempts to determine whether the high court’s opinion has any impact on the case before him.

The state case is "on hold," Terre Cass, a circuit court spokeswoman told reporters in Tallahassee, Fla.

The practical impact of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was unclear in Florida, where Bush was certified the winner by 537 votes eight days ago, and where Gore has been waging a battle ever since to overturn that certification.

The action was not a ruling for Bush on the merits of his appeal. But by setting aside the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, it could place in doubt the gains Gore made through the hand recount in the days after Nov. 14. That was the original deadline for certification set by Secretary of State Katherine Harris before the state Supreme Court ordered her to accept updated results for several more days.

The court said it was not certain to what extent the Florida court saw the state constitution as limiting state lawmakers’ authority to choose presidential electors, or how much consideration it gave to an 1887 federal law that makes states’ choice of presidential electors binding on Congress as long as disputes were resolved under laws enacted before the election.

"The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion," the justices said in an unsigned opinion.

Gore adviser Greg Simon, who is helping with on-the-ground activities in Florida, called the U.S. Supreme Court ruling "just a timeout."

"This is not a penalty or anything else. This doesn’t move the ball either way. This just stops the clock for a video replay."

"It’s an academic exercise on behalf of the Supreme Court and has no impact on the hand recount," Simon said.

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