Franken asks Minn. court to put him in Senate

Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken asked Minnesota’s highest court Thursday to order the governor and secretary of state to certify him as the winner of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race, without waiting for the outcome of Republican Norm Coleman’s court challenge of the recount results. The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Franken’s request for a certificate of election now, at least on an interim basis, so that Minnesota’s empty seat can be filled without waiting the months it may take for the courts to resolve Coleman’s separate lawsuit. GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie have rejected Franken’s demand for the certificate, which he would need to take the seat Coleman had to vacate early last month as the new Congress convened. Franken lawyer Marc Elias told the court Thursday that citizens are being deprived of their right to have two senators as Congress decides critical issues involving the economy and war and peace. Attorneys for Coleman and the state countered that state law clearly states that the governor and secretary of state can’t issue that certificate until all court challenges are resolved. The justices took the case under advisement and didn’t say when they might rule. Lawyers for Coleman, Pawlenty and Ritchie argued in their briefs ahead of Thursday’s hearing that state law clearly prohibits Pawlenty and Ritchie from issuing the election certificate until Coleman’s lawsuit, known formally as a “contest,” is resolved. They point to a provision in the law that says, “In the case of a contest, an election certificate shall not be issued until a court of proper jurisdiction has finally determined the contest.” They contend the special three-judge panel that began hearing Coleman’s lawsuit Jan. 26 is that proper court. “There is no way to construe these words differently,” Coleman’s attorneys wrote. Franken’s attorneys dispute that view, calling it a misreading of the state law. They say the three-judge panel lacks the authority to decide the election. They also say the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes are what count, and that they obligate Minnnesota to provide its citizens with full representation in a timely way. “The people of Minnesota have been represented with only half their due during critical votes in the past several weeks, including the confirmation of cabinet secretaries and consideration of multi-billion dollar economic recovery measures,” they wrote. “The Senate has been similarly deprived of members. In light of the upcoming contest trial and the possibility of future appeals, this situation is likely to continue for weeks, if not months, further preventing Minnesota from fulfilling its obligations to its citizens and to the United States Senate.” The attorneys for Coleman and the state wrote that nothing in the state law conflicts with the Senate’s ultimate authority under the Constitution to determine its members. In his lawsuit, which continued Thursday in a separate proceeding, Coleman is asking the three-judge panel to count thousands of absentee ballots that may have been rejected improperly, in hopes of overturning Franken’s 225-vote lead.