U.S. high court puts in long day in presidential election case

publiziert: Dienstag, 12. Dez 2000 / 07:11 Uhr

Washington - The U.S. Supreme Court justices were continuing their deliberations into the night Monday on a crucial ruling in the contested presidential election - whether manual vote recounts could continue in Florida.

An impatient United States gave up waiting for a ruling on the same day that the justices heard arguments in the case, turning their hopes to a decision Tuesday that could end five weeks of waiting on who their 43rd president will be, Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore.

Although the U.S. high court has, as usual, been secretive about when the country can expect a decision, Tuesday is the deadline by which the 50 U.S. states must choose their delegates to the Electoral College, which elects the chief executive under the United States' indirect presidential election system.

The November 7 election was so close that a result has come down to one state: Florida, where Texas Governor Bush was declared the winner by 537 votes of 6 million cast. Vice President Gore, however, has argued that some votes were never counted, requesting the manual recounts for an accurate tally. On Monday, the nine justices queried lawyers representing Bush and Gore for 90 minutes about the manner in which Florida's contested vote count has been conducted and the controversial ruling on Friday by the Florida high court to begin a recount of about 43,000 disputed ballots.

Justices seemed to be concerned over the wide range of standards Florida has applied to the recount. They also questioned the timing of the recount and whether an accurate tally could be produced under constitutional deadlines.

"Why shouldn't there be one subjective rule for all the counties?" asked Justice David Souter in pondering how a court-ordered recount could continue. Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned whether the nation's highest court should be taking up the case. "Where's the federal question here?" he asked Bush attorney Theodore Olson. Hundreds of supporters for both candidates shouted slogans and brandished signs outside the courthouse as television networks began to broadcast an audio tape of the entire court proceedings, which excluded television cameras and were not broadcast live.

"This is our first ever demonstration," said Gore supporters Patricia and Lewis Shotton from Front Royal, Virginia. "We feel this is the most important issue in our lifetimes. This is an injustice. There ought to be a fair and full count of all votes." Gore attorney David Boies appeared outside the courthouse to talk to members of the media on his impressions of the proceedings but was unwilling to say which side he thought would prevail in the case or whether this week's decision will end the lawsuits in the election.

"I'm not sure," he said. "Every time I've made a prediction about what the last argument was, I've been proven wrong. I don't want to say that this will be the last argument, but I think this was an extremely important argument." Boies described the proceedings as "a-45 minute interrogation" in which a well-prepared bench of justices peppered him and Olson with questions. He conceded that, going into the arguments, the judges did seem predisposed towards Bush's contention that the vote count was unconstitutional. "Certainly, the fact that a stay was granted, as Justice [Antonin] Scalia indicated, means that a majority of the nine justices found that there's at least a reasonable probability that Governor Bush's side will prevail," he said.

"However, as Justice Scalia also indicated, he would come into the argument with an open mind - he would listen to the argument, as I'm sure they all did. I think that while it's an uphill battle, ... I think they will make an effort to listen to the arguments and make a decision based on the arguments."

The Supreme Court on Saturday stunned the nation by halting the Florida recount while in progress after voting 5-4 to approve Bush's recommendation of a stay. The ruling indicated the court is deeply divided between conservatives and liberals with the conservative justices holding a slight majority. Bush attorney Olson said the justices were well aware that the nation was approaching several deadlines for when the election needed to be determined.

The first deadline is Tuesday, when Florida is supposed to select its 25 electors and its House of Representatives is expected to decide whether the state legislature should choose them. The second deadline falls on Monday, when the Electoral College will meet to send its electors to Congress. "They're aware of what the issues are, and they know how important it is to decide something soon," Olson said of the U.S. high court.

"They're concerned about the timetable - the practicalities of getting all this done," he said," because federal law requires some finality to presidential elections, so we're running up against some very important deadlines."


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