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Election 2000: Florida Supreme Court Could Have Final Word on Who Will Become President

Aired December 8, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-one days after Americans voted for president, the Supreme Court of Florida could have the final word on who gets the job. As we heard from David Cardwell, a ruling may come today, maybe not -- but it could either clinch the election for George W. Bush or give Al Gore one last chance to recount those votes from south Florida.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is just outside the Supreme Court chambers.

Let's see if they have a hint of anything happening today -- Susan.


So in the meantime, we will tell you about one other matter. Even though the oral arguments, as you are well aware, wrapped up yesterday after going on for just over just an hour, it appears as though attorneys for both sides are getting in one last lick as they wait for the Florida Supreme Court to make its decision.

This started with a filing by attorneys for Governor Bush. They filed what is called a clarification for the justices on the issue of whether the court has jurisdiction. Now, attorneys for Governor Bush were asked a question about that, as well as attorneys for Vice President Gore, during oral arguments yesterday: Does the court have the authority to be hearing Vice President Gore's appeal in the first place?

Well, according to this clarification from attorneys for Governor Bush, they state that it is, in their words, "absolutely clear, under Florida and federal law, that this court does not have the authority to grant the kind of relief that Vice President Gore wants." Specifically, attorneys for Governor Bush say that if there were some sort of a hand recount, that it would be very selective in nature, and the court would have to adopt what they view as an unprecedented standard for reviewing these votes.

You know what's at issue here, and that's those 14,000 so-called undervotes from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. And the Gore attorneys -- or rather, Governor Bush's attorneys are arguing that if, indeed, there were a manual recount of these ballots, and if it changed the outcome of the election, then that would, as they say, amount to having the court -- the Florida Supreme Court -- select Florida's electors, which they say would be a violation of both Florida and state law and federal election laws.

They go on to argue that if this court agreed to a hand recount of those 14,000 ballots, that it would only be fair to order a hand recount of all undervotes in the state of Florida.

The Democrats repeatedly argue and, in fact, they filed a reply to this brief, saying that the court does, indeed, have jurisdiction to hear this case. After all, they say, there was a trial involved here, involving circuit court judge, and anyone can file an appeal of a ruling from a circuit court judge. That includes, they say, a contest of a presidential election.

And just a recap here: The Florida Supreme Court is deciding not only on Vice President Gore's appeal, but two other matters before it. And that is the clarification sought by the U.S. Supreme Court about why this court extended the deadline for manual recounts in the state of Florida, as well as hearing an appeal from a man who lives in Collier county, Florida, who is challenging the constitutionality of hand recounts in this state.

We have no idea when there will be ruling, naturally, but according court spokesman, we will get at least 1/2 hour to 45 minutes notice before any such announcement.

Back to you -- Natalie.

ALLEN: OK, we'll wait and hear that when it happens, Susan Candiotti, thanks.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Now, beyond the legal rulings, we want to talk a little bit about the politics surrounding all of this maneuvering, so joining us is CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

And, Bill, I guess the best way to characterize what's happening in Congress and in other places, is baited breath.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, everyone is waiting for these rulings. There are three of them, plus the actions of the of Florida legislature. And then there's this impending deadline of December 12th, which is Tuesday, but nobody knows if that's a real deadline or not.

FRAZIER: So in advance of the rulings, is anything actually going on? Is there any maneuvering politically, or are we all just in sort of suspension?

SCHNEIDER: Well, everyone's in suspension. Democrats are holding on for Vice President Gore. I haven't heard of any Democrats who are abandoning him at this point, because they want to hear what this state Supreme Court ruling is. The only maneuvering going on is in the Florida legislature, which is trying to position itself to name the Bush electors the official electors for the state of Florida, if that needs to happen on Tuesday because the situation is still unresolved. FRAZIER: You know, you've been sitting next to Frank Sesno for much of the day. Earlier, Frank was telling us about a sort of a Doomsday scenario about what would happen down the road. Has that eased off at all -- he talked about a lot of bitterness up in Washington?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there is a lot of bitterness, and I think it would happen no matter who becomes president: One side is going to feel cheated and angry, and there's going to have to be a lot of smoothing of the waters. But you could see this thing becoming even more protracted if the state Supreme Court rules that the ballots should be counted.

I mean, I can make up nightmare scenarios where this goes on after December 12th: that the legislature declares that Bush has won the election and certifies his election, and then the Supreme Court rules that the ballots have to be counted, the counting isn't finished. There's a lot of litigation about how many ballots should be counted: Should it be the entire state? This goes on for days and days after the actual electors cast their ballots on December 18th, then it goes to Congress in January. You have a Republican-controlled house, a Democratic-controlled Senate -- they can't agree. So then the law says it shall be the electors who are certified by the governor of the state -- but that is Jeb Bush. Well, this could just go on and on.

FRAZIER: And as they look down the road at those eventualities, Bill, from where you sit, do you see anybody just relaxing a little bit, saying we're coming to terms with this now, or are the edges getting harder?

SCHNEIDER: I think the edges are getting harder. But nothing is really firm until the state Supreme Court makes its ruling. But it's got to rule in the case of Dade and Palm Beach counties, namely, it's got to answer a simple question: Will we recount those ballots, or are we going to agree with the lower court judge, Judge Sauls, that the ballots should not be counted? That's one case.

Then we have these cases to be decided, shortly, in Seminole and Martin counties, which then could be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Florida for a final decision. Al Gore says he's going to let the Supreme Court of Florida have the final say. He's not a party to those two cases because he doesn't want to be in the position of requesting that a judge throw out ballots cast by legitimate voters, but there are Democrats pursuing those cases. If they lose, they could go to the Supreme Court of Florida, and Gore may wait before he makes a decision what to do.

Even if he loses the case now being decided by the state Supreme Court, he could wait and see the final disposition of the appeals of any decisions in those Seminole and Martin county cases. So this could go on a little bit longer before Vice President Gore makes a decision what to do.

FRAZIER: Well, Bill, I'm getting a sense that this suspension of activity that you're describing is just short-lived, and that as soon as we do get those rulings, there'll be an awful lot for you to talk about, up there.

SCHNEIDER: There will be.

FRAZIER: Bill Schneider, thanks so much for joining us today.




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