By LAURIE ASSEO
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to intervene in the Florida presidential recount, saying Friday it will hear one of George W. Bush’s appeals that seeks to bar hand-counted ballots in the disputed election.
In a stunning development and a victory for Bush, the nation’s highest court said it will hear arguments Dec. 1 on whether to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that allowed manually recounted votes to be added to Florida’s vote total.
“The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted,” the court’s order said.
The justices rejected a second challenge filed by Bush, papers that sought to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that let the hand recounts go forward.
The court’s Dec. 1 date is five days after Florida Sec. of State Katharine Harris planned to certify a winner in the state that stands to pick the next president.
The justices said they would consider whether the Florida Supreme Court erred in limiting the secretary of state’s discretion to certify election results.
The justices also said they would consider the following question: “What would be the consequences of this court’s finding that the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida does not comply with” a federal law requiring states to resolve controversies regarding the appointment of electors under laws enacted before election day.
Because Bush did not seek an emergency order to immediately halt the manual recounts, the re-counts apparently can continue while the court prepares to hear the case.
The justices ordered both sides to file initial briefs by next Tuesday afternoon and responses by next Thursday. The court said it will hear an hour and a half of arguments at 10 a.m. EDT on Friday, Dec. 1.
The ruling came as Bush and Gore competed for votes in a series of recounts in counties across Florida, Bush gaining ground as overseas absentee ballots were tallied in a handful of counties, the vice president picking up support from a hand-recanvas of votes cast on Election Day, Nov. 7.
Republicans protested outside the building where Broward County officials scrutinized hundreds of questionable ballots. “We’re throwing out military votes on technicalities while we’re over here divining votes of what somebody intended to do when they have no idea what they intended to do,” said former Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee.
Democrats countered with a sharply worded rebuttal.
Republicans, charged Klain, “have taken away Al Gore’s votes in Miami-Dade County and today they are taking away votes in Nassau County,” where local officials voted earlier in the day to adjust the totals by 52 votes in Bush’s favor.
In other developments during a day of skirmishing, several Democratic lawmakers wrote the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, asking for an investigation into alleged “voter intimidation” by Republicans in connection with Dade County’s decision to halt its manual recount.
In Tallahassee, Circuit Court Judge L. Ralph Smith convened a hearing on the Bush campaign’s suit to force 14 counties to reconsider their earlier rejection of overseas absentee ballots because of questionable postmarks.
Bush went to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, seeking a ruling that would invalidate all recounts and preserve his 930-vote lead.
Gore’s lawyers objected in a legal filing of their own, and on Friday Bush rebutted the vice president’s objections, saying they do not overcome the “powerful justification for review by this court.”
Theodore Olson, an attorney for the Bush campaign, said on NBC’s “Today” show Friday that it was “uncertain” what the court would do. But, he added, “Even if the United States Supreme Court does not intervene at this point, it might well decide later that this process, which changes the rules after the election, is unconstitutional.”
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in papers filed Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court, said her state’s highest court changed Florida election law when it allowed the manual recounts to continue.
Until then, she said, “a manual recount was a last-resort remedy” to be used only when machine tabulation failed.
The recounts continued, though, and Bush picked up a handful of votes in Broward County, where the canvassing board resumed its review of approximately 1,500 ballots that were not punched through cleanly by voters on election day.
Elsewhere, officials in Clay County voted to accept 14 of 17 previously rejected overseas ballots. That gave Bush 13 votes and Gore one.
The Gore campaign asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to order the recount reopened in Miami-Dade, but the justices refused.
Gore campaign attorney David Boies, also on NBC, noted that Miami-Dade officials decided to stop their counting after Republican backers staged noisy demonstrations, “mini-riots if you will,” outside the recount office. “If that’s the reason they stopped counting, I think it’s very unfortunate.”
Gore’s lawyers said they will go to state court in Tallahassee to contest the Miami-Dade election results after the votes are certified, expected late Sunday.
“Nobody should be surprised by this. We’ve been saying all along that we wanted a full and fair count and that’s what we intend to see happen,” said Klain. He said some results in other counties also may be challenged, but he did not give details.
The Florida Supreme Court, in setting the Sunday deadline for vote certification, anticipated the vote would be contested and wanted to ensure enough time for such challenges before the state’s crucial 25 presidential electors are chosen on Dec. 12. Whoever wins those electors will have enough votes to become the next president.
Bush also has filed suit in a Florida court asking 14 counties with heavy military populations to recount overseas ballots. Hundreds of ballots, many from military outposts, were rejected last week when Democratic lawyers urged county boards to scrutinize them.
In papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the vice president’s lawyers said Bush was asking the justices “to interfere with a task that has been expressly delegated to the state of Florida,” the choosing of presidential electors.
Florida’s Republican state lawmakers have said they may call a special session of the GOP-controlled Legislature to choose their own slate of electors if the hand recounts push Gore over the top or if the Dec. 12 deadline is not met.
House Speaker Tom Feeney said that if the electors were not picked by the required date, “the responsibility falls on the Legislature in Florida to decide who those electors are going to be.”
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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