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Florida judge rules against Gore; high court returns case to state

EDITORS’ NOTE: This following article updates the 12/4/00 BP article titled, “High court cancels Florida ruling, delivers setback to Gore’s hopes.”

WASHINGTON (BP)–A Florida judge delivered a stinging blow Dec. 4 to Democratic candidate Al Gore’s hopes of being sworn in as the next president of the United States.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected Gore’s challenge of vote totals in three counties, ruling there was not a “reasonable probability” the presidential election in Florida would be different than the one certified by the state’s Elections Canvassing Commission, which declared Republican George W. Bush the winner Nov. 26.

Earlier Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court canceled a decision by the Florida Supreme Court in favor of Gore. The high court returned the case to the state court for reconsideration, saying there was “considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds” for the Florida justices’ decision to extend the legislature’s deadline for certification of the state’s balloting for president.

Gore’s lawyers appealed Sauls’ ruling to the Florida high court. That court’s seven justices were confronted with dealing not only with the appeal from a lower court but reconsideration of its own ruling as ordered by the country’s highest court.

The combination of court actions presented more barriers for Gore in his attempt to swing the verdict his way as the Dec. 12 deadline for approving electors nears. If the certification of Bush as winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes holds up, the Texas governor would have 271 electoral votes, one more than is needed. Gore has 267 electoral votes.

The result of the election is critical not only to fervent Democrats and Republicans but to both sides in the battle over such issues as abortion, homosexuality and pornography. Although it is unclear how far-reaching Bush’s actions would be, it appears safe to assume he would support some restrictions on abortion, a delay in the rapid expansion of homosexual rights and increased prosecution of obscenity cases. Gore is an outspoken advocate for abortion and homosexual rights. The Clinton administration of which he has been a member for two terms became notorious for not prosecuting obscenity the last four years.

In his opinion, Sauls found there was no evidence of “any illegality, dishonesty, gross negligence, improper influence, coercion or fraud in the balloting or country processes,” according to a copy of the ruling published in The New York Times. Gore contested vote certifications in Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau counties, but Sauls said a recount in all of Florida’s counties would be necessary in order to challenge the result properly.

In the other opinion released Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a seven-page decision vacating a Nov. 21 ruling by the Florida high court. The justices’ ruling called for further proceedings “not inconsistent with this opinion,” according to the decision.

The Florida Supreme Court had acted Nov. 17 to block Secretary of State Katherine Harris from declaring a winner the next day after the deadline for absentee ballots had passed. Four days later, the state high court unanimously ruled Harris must accept manual recounts until 5 p.m. Nov. 26. When that deadline passed with Bush still in the lead, Harris and the Elections Canvassing Commission certified Bush as the winner of the state’s electoral votes.

In a ruling issued only three days after oral arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was unsure to what extent the Florida court saw the state constitution as restricting the legislature’s determination of presidential electors. The justices also said in their opinion they were uncertain what consideration a federal law on the selection of presidential electors received from the state court.

The justices acknowledged it was unusual for them to rule on a state court’s interpretation of a state law but said the state legislature was acting in this case on the basis of authority granted it by the U.S. Constitution. They said they were refusing at this time to review any federal issues that may be present in the case.

After the court-approved certification Nov. 26, Bush led by 537 votes, a lead that would grow if the manual recount votes turned in during the extension were eliminated. More than 6 million votes were cast in Florida. Two counties’ manual recounts were not included in the total certified. Dade County chose not to continue its recount because its canvassing board decided it could not meet the deadline. Palm Beach County’s board did not meet the deadline, and a partial recount was not included in the certified totals.

The “per curiam” decision released by the U.S. Supreme Court reflected the opinion of the entire bench. Normally opinions by the high court include a majority decision, if the ruling is not unanimous, and one or more dissenting opinions.

The justices’ ruling came in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board.

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