The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped into the legal battle over the Florida presidential election by agreeing to hear a Bush campaign appeal seeking to halt heavily Democratic counties from conducting hand recounts of their ballots.
In the latest twist in this ongoing high-stakes political drama, the court issued a writ of certiorari to hear the case -- an appeal of the Florida Supreme Court's unanimous decision this week that hand recounts completed in the next few days must be included in the final vote tallies -- and has scheduled a 90-minute hearing for Dec. 1. The justices ordered lawyers from both the Bush and Gore camps to file briefs by Tuesday and responses by Thursday.
Joining the Gore and Bush camps before the hallowed court will be members of the Florida House of Representatives. In a late afternoon appearance, House Speaker Tom Feeney said legislators in the Republican-led body are seeking to participate in the Supreme Court case, presumably on George W. Bush's behalf. "In our view, the action of the Supreme Court of Florida changed the rules and standards established by the legislature prior to the election," Feeney said, referring to the courts order that hand counts to continue through Sunday. The House has retained Harvard law professor and constitutional law expert Einer Elhauge to advise it on federal law pertaining to presidential elections.
David Boies, one of the lead attorneys for the Gore campaign, attempted to put a positive spin on the court's decision to hear the case even though the vice president's supporters have argued that the issue is solely a matter for Florida courts to decide.
"The Supreme Court decision to hear the case is hopefully the last step in resolving the controversy that has unfortunately arisen" regarding Florida law, he said in an interview on CNN shortly after the court announced its intention to take on the case. "Our view is that it's fine to have a hearing on this ... because it will put to rest the kinds of arguments that have been made."
Boies said he did not expect to be arguing the case before the court. That role, he said, would most likely fall to Harvard professor and constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, who has been handling the federal court aspects of the legal fight. The Bush team sought the high court review in an effort to salvage the Texas governor's 930-vote lead in the state, but many observers believed that the justices would not accept the case. Even Bush lead attorney Ted Olson told NBC's "Today" Friday that he was uncertain whether the case would be heard.
The filings in the U.S. Supreme Court case revealed something of the two campaigns' strategies. In their brief, Gore's lawyers indicated they would contest the results of the election in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties if those amended results still showed a Bush lead. Miami-Dade County officials determined Wednesday to halt hand counts because they didn't believe they could meet the Florida Supreme Court's stringent Sunday deadline for submitting amended results to the secretary of state's office. The Gore campaign appealed the county's decision to the Florida Supreme Court, but the court unanimously rejected Gore's request. Those events are driving the rhetoric from all camps.
Bush attorneys responded to the Gore filing with their own earlier on Friday, arguing that the Gore camp's arguments for asking the court not to move ahead with the case were not as strong as the "powerful justification for review by this court."
Before the Supreme Court announced its intention to hear the case, lead attorneys for Bush and Gore engaged in a war of words on CNN. Bush attorney Olson lashed out at the Gore campaign's threat to contest Sunday's upcoming results. "It's clear that they are not going to give up until they're out of lawyers, and they're never going to run out of lawyers," he said.
Boies was quick to rebut Olson on the same cable channel. "Certainly the Republicans have already filed contests in about a dozen counties," he said. "They filed protests and contests. So I think that they are going to be going forward with their contests and I would certainly hope that the American people have the patience to see this play itself out."
Earlier in the day, Salon learned that Democratic Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., will call for a federal investigation into whether Republicans organized an effort to intimidate the Miami-Dade County canvassing board into stopping its recount.
On Friday afternoon, Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., added to Deutsch's argument, saying, "I am deeply disappointed by reports of orchestrated demonstrations on Wednesday inside a state building -- a government building -- in Miami-Dade County. Not just to express a point of view, but to disrupt and halt the counting of ballots. These demonstrations were clearly designed to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward. Shortly afterwards, one of the commissioners said, and I quote, 'We would be up there now counting' if it weren't for those objections. He then joined his colleagues in deciding to give up the effort to count the ballots altogether."
In a separate legal action, Bush asked a state court to rule that 14 Florida counties with heavy concentrations of overseas military voters recount their overseas ballots. The move came after a controversial Democratic memo was discovered last week that detailed for election monitors how they could disqualify overseas ballots for a variety of technicalities, including the omission of a postmark, which can be quite common for military enlistees or employees abroad.
Vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney provided a brief respite from the legal wrangling that consumed the Thanksgiving holiday when he was released from the hospital Friday morning. Cheney said there were "no restrictions" on his physical capabilities, and that he could return to work Monday. Bush's running mate had been holed up at Washington's George Washington University Hospital since suffering a mild heart attack -- his fourth -- on Wednesday. Despite his bodily setback, Cheney seemed in high spirits when he conducted a short press conference in the hospital's lobby.
Cheney also provided a bit of news in his remarks by confirming that he had spoken with Lieberman on Thanksgiving -- an exchange reported by CNN on Thursday. Lieberman apparently wished Cheney a speedy recovery, and the two agreed to meet for a cup of joe once the dust settles.
Cheney is under doctor's orders to not work for the rest of the weekend, but he said he didn't expect any major lifestyle changes other than to review his exercise program and diet. Cheney also offered the first details of the circumstances that led to his hospitalization Wednesday morning. Around 3:30 a.m. EST, he said, he felt a "sensation" that he though might be heart related, and he asked his wife Lynne and Secret Service agents to drive him to the hospital.
Meanwhile, 1996 Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Bob Dole led a post-Turkey Day protest in Florida's Broward County against the nullification of military absentee ballots in that county. Broward is at the center of the state's chad controversies, which Dole made quick work of.
If Broward can count "dimples and pimples," Dole, a rare and poignant Washington political humorist, quipped, then it should count the vote of the men and women risking their lives for the country. "It seems to me that now ... we're throwing out military votes on technicalities while we're over here divining votes on what somebody intended to do when they have no idea what they intended to do," Dole said. "There's something wrong with this system."