Originally created 11/17/00

Gore asks federal court to step aside



ATLANTA - On the day Al Gore's lawyers persuaded the Florida Supreme Court to let the manual recount proceed, they also filed briefs asking a federal appeals court to let the state court determine the matter.

Early Thursday, dozens of legal briefs arrived at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta arguing whether the recounts violate the U.S. Constitution. The 12 judges spent the day reading them, researching precedents and debating the arguments with clerks, observers said.

The judges gave Mr. Gore and fellow Democrats until 7 a.m. today to file a response to the written arguments already filed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush and two conservative legal foundations representing three Bush voters in Florida. Court officials gave no indication if oral arguments would be made before the judges. Both sides requested them.

In a motion by the Florida Democratic Party, Gore supporters reasoned the cases should be tossed aside at least until the Florida courts have ruled on the two dozen or so cases still pending.

"This case is simply not appropriate for federal court intervention at this point in the proceedings," the motion reads. "(The Republicans) reflect an intense distrust of the laws and courts of the state of Florida and a desire for the federal courts to dictate the details of Florida's electoral process."

The Constitution and a 120-year-old federal law specifically give state legislatures authority to determine how votes are cast and counted, the Democrats argued.

"Maintaining the integrity of the state electoral system and assuring that the votes of all voters are properly counted are fundamental state interests," they wrote.

Republicans, on the other hand, argue that waiting for the Florida courts to sort out the issue will take too long and won't remedy the problems.

"(The state courts) are being abused and manipulated to sink the Florida election into an unrecognizable, unmanageable and unending morass of litigation," the GOP brief states. "The choice for the court is a presidential election based on a rational, disinterested, and uniform recount process or one that, for some regions in Florida, is irrational, subjective, inconsistent and discriminatory."

Florida law, the Republicans say, doesn't set clear enough standards for recounts, leaving the procedures up to county canvassing boards. Their brief cites examples of local officials doing the recount bending, poking and writing on ballots, making it difficult to tell how voters intended to vote.

Bush supporters contend that conducting hand recounts only in counties that Mr. Gore won violates the constitutional rights of voters in the other counties. Democrats, though, say no one's rights are harmed since Republicans could have requested manual recounts but didn't.

The Bush camp wants the appeals court to grant an immediate halt to all manual recounts in Florida by overturning two federal judges in Florida who refused to stop the process earlier this week.

To overrule the lower courts, the appeals court must conclude those trial judges abused their discretion and that continuing the recount would harm Mr. Bush more than stopping it would injure Mr. Gore.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.