Gore loses in pair of court decisions

Mike Wereschagin

Vice President Al Gore’s campaign was dealt two potentially lethal blows yesterday when his last refuge, the legal arena, tilted sharply in favor of his opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
First, at about noon Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court annulled the Florida Supreme Court’s Nov. 14 ruling to extend the deadline for manual recounts.
Then, four and one-half hours later, Florida Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls ruled against Gore’s objection of Bush’s certification as the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes.
“I did not find … a reasonable probability that a recount by the State Board of Elections of the State of Florida would produce different results,” the judge said. “The plaintiffs failed to carry the requisite burden of proof.”
The decision dampened hopes in the Gore camp that votes thrown out in Palm Beach, Nassau and Miami-Dade counties will be counted.
All three counties have large Democratic populations that could have turned the narrow election in Gore’s favor.
Gore’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal with the 1st Circuit appellate court at 3:58 p.m., minutes after Sauls issued his ruling.
Within an hour, the appellate court turned around and forwarded the appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. A ruling is expected from the high court within a week.
But the Gore team will be facing an uphill, if not impossible, battle, said local attorney Miles Lord.
“(Sauls) made a finding of fact,” Lord said. “Once a judge makes a finding of fact, it is very difficult to overturn it.”
A “finding of fact” is, as the name implies, a judge’s declaration of something as a legal fact. To overturn such a finding, the plaintiffs would have to prove the judge’s bias.
“There is so much discretion for a judge at that point,” Lord said. “He has the power and there is very little anyone can do about it.”
In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision on George W. Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board a day earlier than expected.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday morning decision is not necessarily a victory for Bush, it also does not bode well for Gore.
Essentially, the court decided to shift the issue back to the Florida state government, where Gore has taken heavy hits in recent days.
Citing 1940’s Minnesota v. National Tea Co., which states “there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds for the decision,” the Court annulled the Florida Supreme Court’s Nov. 14 decision to extend the manual recount deadline.
The U.S. Supreme Court did not declare Florida’s ruling unconstitutional, but it did strike down the decision, telling the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider.
“Without telling the Florida Supreme Court exactly what they’re lacking,” Lord said, “they’re handing the issue back to them and saying, ‘Guess again.'”
James Baker told CNN any victory Gore wins in the Florida Supreme Court, which now must look at two Gore appeals, will undergo U.S. Supreme Court review, making it clear Bush will not be the first to blink in the current legal staring contest.

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected]