Law School hosts debate on Supreme Court election case

by Tracey Nelson

The raging battle before the U.S. Supreme Court between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was the topic of a panel discussion Tuesday at the University’s Law School.
Law School Dean E. Thomas Sullivan and professors Mike Paulson, Guy Charles and Dale Carpenter walked through the legal issues facing the Supreme Court, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case, and possible rulings.
The Supreme Court cannot hear the case unless there is a substantial federal question — in accordance with the U.S. Constitution — at stake, Sullivan said.
The question for the Supreme Court is this: Does the action by the Florida Supreme Court in extending the deadline and in approving a manual recount violate Article II of the Constitution?
“There is tension between the Florida courts and the Florida Legislature. Who is the final arbiter of Florida law?” Sullivan asked. He also raised concern about the power of judges to decide law in the future.
Paulson, a self-professed Bush supporter, said, “I am enthusiastically against Gore. Gore has almost no chance of winning and is most certainly wrong. There is no plausible justification to overturn the ruling.”
He said Bush’s argument that the Florida Supreme Court changed the rules in the middle of the game is valid, but it is not a statutory violation.
“This is the worst statutory interpretation case imaginable but it isn’t a problem with legislative power,” he said. “They do it all the time.”
Paulson said he feels Bush should dismiss the claim because the issues are irrelevant now anyway.
Others disagreed.
“Gore should win,” Charles said. “The issues raised by Bush aren’t federal questions and Florida has judicial review of Florida laws.”
He added the Florida court performed a routine act of interpretation.
Carpenter addressed the concerns of the Florida Legislature.
“(They) signed an amicus brief telling Gore and Bush they are both right and both wrong,” he said.
Carpenter said the Constitution says it is the state legislature’s responsibility to decide what method is used to assign electors: “It is wrong to assume (a statute) is a mandate on how to regulate a vote. It isn’t. It’s not a restriction on the states way of (counting votes).”
University law professor Carol Chomsky asked: So why did the Supreme Court agree to hear the case?
“Heaven knows. They couldn’t restrain themselves,” Paulson said, cautioning that a reversal should not be inferred from it.

Tracey Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]