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US Supremes hand White House to Dubya

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The US Supreme Court issued an unsigned ruling late Tuesday night which found by a margin of five to four that the state-wide manual re-counts ordered by Florida's Supreme Court violate equal rights on grounds that there is no consistent standard for judging whether a vote was cast; and remanded the case, with considerable irony, to the Fla Supremes, noting that thanks to their own interference there is now not enough time to conduct such a re-count even if the Fla Supremes were to issue a standard.

The Florida Supremes made it clear in ordering the re-counts -- which the US Supremes ordered stopped on Saturday -- that they did not want the dispute to extend beyond the 12 December deadline for states to choose their presidential electors.

"Because it is evident that any re-count seeking to meet the 12 December date will be unconstitutional....we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the re-count to proceed," the US Supremes said. The High Court did, however, reject Bush's claim that the Fla Supremes had exceeded their Constitutional authority in ordering the re-count.

The Court's three Right-Wingers, Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, issued their own opinion, damning the Fla Supremes for violating the Constitution by ordering the re-count. Conservative Justices Kennedy and O'Connor, who we believe voted with the majority Tuesday night, declined to add their signatures.

The Court's three Left-Wingers, Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens, also issued their own opinion, damning the Bush appeal as a "federal assault" on Florida law. Conservative Justice Souter, who we believe joined the minority on Tuesday night, and who had earlier joined in dissenting against Saturday's re-count obstruction, declined to add his signature.

It's now almost certain that Dubya will be sworn in as US President in January. The only glimmer of hope for Al Bore would come if the Florida Supremes should decide that in light of the US Supremes' decision, they have no choice but extend the re-counts into the electoral grey-area between the 12 December deadline for choosing electors and 18 December when the electors must cast their votes -- something which they have repeatedly resisted.

Election madness

The Florida Court is hardly overreacting in its reluctance to risk hardcore election madness. If the Court should demand re-counts during the December 12-18 window, and Gore should then be found to have won the state, the US will end up with two sets of Florida electors between which the US Congress will have to choose.

While it's true that federal law allows for this situation, the partisan complexion on Capitol Hill almost guarantees that yet another stalemate would result. The House has a Republican majority which will undoubtedly go with Dubya, while the Senate will have an effective Democrat majority, being 50/50 with Veep Bore breaking the tie, obviously in his own favour.

Unless a couple of Senate Democrats 'defect' in order to harmonise the vote with the House (and just imagine the last-minute horse trading behind closed doors in that case), the House/Senate tie would be broken by none other than the Florida Governor, Dubya's brother Jeb Bush.

Of course no one outside the lower reaches of the Third World would wish to win a presidential election in such a manner. So while there is a remote possibility that the Florida Supremes would satisfy the US Supremes' objection by devising a state-wide standard for examining ballots by hand and ordering the re-count to proceed, we rather think they'll prefer not to open that can of worms. And no one can blame them for that.

Winners and Losers

The nominal winner is Dubya, though either way it might have gone, Election 2000 has become a Pyrrhic victory for whoever moves into the White House in January. The tactics on both sides have been low, the rhetoric high, and the competition bitter and relentless. It will be a four-year lame duck administration with a grid-locked Senate any way one cuts it.

The election alone was close enough that there would have been little hope for either president to move legislative proposals without the other party's support, which means that the White House legislative affairs office will become the most important of all, and that anything proposed will have to be palpably centrist. Residual bitterness from the election dispute will only confirm that momentum, leaving us with a Dubya White House virtually indistinguishable from a Bore White House, or vice versa.

The buzz on the street in Washington is that Bore plans to concede the election Wednesday night in a televised speech scheduled for around nine o'clock EST. This will be his last chance to redeem his own reputation which has slid considerably during the protracted contest. He will have to explain his motives exceptionally well -- something he has thus far failed to do -- and concede with grace and dignity. Then, perhaps, he will have a realistic shot at the prize in '04, so long as Hillary lets him.

Perhaps the loser in this whole fiasco, as Justice Stevens wrote in his Tuesday dissent, is not Bore but the judiciary itself. We've already seen profoundly partisan disputes in the local Florida courts, between Florida's Supreme Court and Legislature, and between the state and federal courts.

"Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law," Justice Stevens wrote.

We might just leave it at that. ®

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