WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court canceled Dec. 4 a decision by the Florida Supreme Court in favor of Vice President Al Gore, dealing what appeared to be a serious setback to the Democratic candidate’s hopes of being sworn in as the country’s next president.
Only three days after the case was argued before them, the justices issued a seven-page opinion vacating the Florida high court’s Nov. 21 decision to extend the legislature’s deadline for certification of the state’s balloting for president. The Supreme Court returned the case to Florida’s high court 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 Republican candidate George W. Bush still in the lead, Harris and the state Elections Canvassing Commission certified Bush as the winner of the state’s 25 electoral votes.
If the certification of Bush as winner holds up in Florida, the Texas governor would have 271 electoral votes, one more than is needed. Gore has 267 electoral votes.
In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said “there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds for the decision” of the Florida high court. The justices said they were unsure to what extent the Florida court saw the state constitution as restricting the legislature’s determination of presidential electors. They 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.
It was uncertain what the Florida Supreme Court would do in response to the justices’ ruling.
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. Miami-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.