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Inside Politics

High Court Hears Arguments Over the Florida Recount

Aired December 1, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The highest court in the land hears the dispute over who won the nation's highest office. Now, the country, the candidates and their lawyers wait.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURENCE TRIBE, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: It's always a relief to know that the case doesn't have any time bombs in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THEODORE OLSON, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: The court obviously knows that this case is important and a decision should be forthcoming soon, I would guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Political tensions run high outside the Supreme Court and in the Bush and Gore camps. We'll brief you on all the aspects of this day's legal drama.

WOODRUFF: Plus, another ballot delivery in Florida as the presidential contest plays on in state courts as well. Just minutes ago: a decision by Florida's Supreme Court.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

All eyes have been on the United States Supreme Court today. But a short while ago, Florida's highest court left its mark once again on the presidential election impasse by dismissing an appeal by Al Gore.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has that late-breaking story from Tallahassee -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy. It was a motion that apparently went nowhere, filed by lawyers for the Gore campaign. It had asked the Florida Supreme Court just yesterday to order an immediate recount of the contested ballots around, 12- to 13,000 of them. The Florida Supreme Court has denied that request without prejudice, meaning that if something extraordinary came up, the matter could be revisited but it's probably unlikely that that would happen.

The Gore campaign had also asked alternately if the Florida Supreme Court would not order an immediate recount to ask the Leon County Court where the order is to order an immediate recount. But the Florida Supreme Court is apparently content to let that matter play out in Leon County Court. As you know there is a hearing scheduled for tomorrow and one going on even as we speak to discuss whether a recount will indeed take place. We know already that that hearing will take place tomorrow and will last only one day.

Some other matters taken up by the Florida Supreme Court, we also learn from them that they still have no decision yet on the matter of the butterfly ballot. You will recall that two groups of voters in Palm Beach County who maintain that that two-page butterfly ballot, the one with the two-page format, was confusing to these voters. They claim it caused them to vote for the wrong candidate. The Florida Supreme Court again has said that that matter is still pending before it.

And in one other matter, the court let it be known that it has asked for pleadings by next Monday in a case of a man who lives in Collier County, Florida, which is on the West Coast of Florida. He is asking under a technicality that manual recounts be declared unconstitutional, and the court has agreed to take up that matter. Again, in pleadings, it will receive pleadings next Monday,

Finally, we can tell you this, we have just learned from the court it plans to make yet another announcement in about a half an hour from now. We don't know the nature of that announcement, whether it might possibly have something to do with the butterfly ballot, we don't know. But as soon as we learn, we will let you know -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Susan. Well, we will certainly come right back to you for that. Thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW; Now to this day's arguments before the United States Supreme Court. One of the few things not in dispute in this post- election presidential contest is the significance of the outcome. But, somehow, it seemed even more important today, as the legal brawl moved to the majestic setting of America's ultimate court. The sense of history in the making was compounded by the unprecedented immediate release of those audiotapes from the session.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer was inside the chamber as Bush and Gore lawyers argued over a pivotal ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The justices wanted to be sure they should even deal with the Florida State Supreme court decision extending vote recounts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the State Supreme Court relied on a federal issue, or a federal background principle and got it wrong, then you can be here.

BIERBAUER: Bush attorney Ted Olson says Florida violated both the U.S. Constitution and federal election statutes.

OLSON: The Florida Supreme Court radically changed the legislative scheme because it thought it could do so under the Florida Constitution. By doing so, it acted inconsistently with Article Two of the Constitution, and inconsistently with Section 5 of Title 3.

BIERBAUER: The change in counting deadlines is critical.

TRIBE: The laws were in place before the election and those laws granted to the judiciary...

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, but certainly the date changed. That is a dramatic change, the date for certification, right?

TRIBE: Yes.

BIERBAUER: Later, Gore attorney Laurence Tribe.

TRIBE: We're not viewing here whether the decision in which within the gray area where a court could reasonably go either way, this court simply said, we don't care about these federal considerations.

BIERBAUER: This court will not lightly reverse the Florida decision, Justice Ginsburg:

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: In case of the case we have said, we owe the highest respect to what the state says, state Supreme Court says, is the state's law.

OLSON: This is a very unusual situation, Justice Ginsburg because it is the context of a presidential election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BIERBAUER: And this court is mindful of the presidential stake involved here and the built-in deadlines that we are now moving towards since we are in the month of December when the electors must cast their votes for the next president of the United States. So, we do expect that there will be an opinion from this court in perhaps a week's time, perhaps even less -- Judy

WOODRUFF: All right, Charles Bierbauer, thanks very much.

And now we want to turn to CNN legal analysts Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack, who also had a seat in the high courtroom for George W. Bush versus Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, et. al. Before I get to what the Supreme Court did today, I want to tell you and you just learned this as I did, the 11th Circuit Court, the federal court in Atlanta, has, we are told, agreed to hear two issues or two Bush appeals. Can you quickly fill us in on what that may be next Tuesday? GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: On Monday after election, the Bush campaign went to Miami seeking a federal injunction trying to stop the manual hand count that was being done in several counties across the state. And in seeking that injunction, they thought that it was unfair, that it violated rights of voters, that you diluted votes by doing hand counts in some counties and not others and various constitutional issues.

They didn't get the injunction, however, and the issue was denied by the trial court judge. However, they did appeal to the 11th Circuit that whole issue about whether or not the hand counts, you know should go forward; whether they're constitutional or not. Now, the reason why this is important is because tomorrow in Tallahassee in state court, the Gore and Bush campaigns will be battling it out about whether or not hand count should go forward. Let's say hypothetically this judge says yes, but the 11th Circuit says no, it's unconstitutional on Tuesday, then we're back with more legal problems.

WOODRUFF: All right, and before we...

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Go ahead and say it. We're back in the Supreme Court. Go ahead and say it!

WOODRUFF: Natalie Pawelski, CNN correspondent is there in Atlanta just, I guess, where the 11th Circuit has just made this announcement.

Natalie, are you with us?

NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Judy. We just learned that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta has agreed to hear two separate but related cases challenging the Florida recount. These cases were brought by voters in Florida and joined by the Bush campaign. They charge that hand recounts are inherently unfair and unconstitutional, as Greta mentioned. They are being conducted in certain counties but not in others and the argument is that this violates the due protection clause of the Constitution. The other side, of course, says that hand recounts of the gold standards, the best way to determine who will win this election.

WOODRUFF: All right, Natalie Pawelski. Thanks very much and, of course, we'll come back to you as that develops -- Roger.

COSSACK: Judy, if I might just make a comment. You know, the interesting argument about that -- if you say that hand counts in only some counties dilute the vote of other counties, which is what the argument is. there's two answers. Either answer one is you don't hand count at all. Or answer two is you hand count everybody. So, you know, be careful what you wish for.

WOODRUFF: Let me quickly also ask you about the Florida Supreme Court ruling just handed down within the half hour saying that they will not hear the Gore request to speed up the counting of ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

VAN SUSTEREN: Fascinating for a couple of reasons. Number one is it's a loss for the Gore campaign because what that issue was about two thing was really two things. One to speed up the contest proceedings, There's going to be a hearing on tomorrow, on Saturday. But they'd like one right now. It's also the issue about the hand count. When they filed it they said let's have the hand count right now.

If they started now, today, it would certainly be better than tomorrow afternoon should the judge rule that a hand count should go forward. But even more importantly, this was called a writ of mandamus. It was asking the Supreme Court to order the trial court judge to do something fast. And if you're going to shoot at the king, you'd better kill him because now they've insulted him.

COSSACK: The other thing of it is it became pretty apparent by this afternoon that they were going to lose this thing because, you know, what they were looking for was something to start this morning. You know, they filed it and once it didn't start this morning, you know, it's going to start tomorrow.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but even if the Supreme Court had said, you know, start now, that's certainly better than tomorrow. I mean, that at least gives them 12 more hours or 24. My math is fuzzy. Every minute works against Al Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

COSSACK: No, I understand why they wanted it.

WOODRUFF: All right, the Supreme Court. There seemed to be a clear division among the justices at least in the way their questions came out over whether the Florida Supreme Court acted properly -- Roger.

COSSACK: Right.

WOODRUFF: Is that significant or not?

COSSACK: It is significant. But I'm not sure what you put -- kind of conclusions you can draw from the questions, because the questions really were pointed to the issues that each side was -- had put forth in their brief. The part that I saw -- the beginning part -- where Ted Olson was arguing, the justices were very pointed in asking him: Why is this a federal question? What federal law, in a sense, have gotten us here?

And as Justice Ginsburg said: You know, shouldn't we be very deferential to a Supreme Court from a state that -- before we should overturning it? And it was -- and you clearly -- if you listen just to that argument -- which is all you heard -- you walk away saying: My goodness, Gore wins!

And then, of course, Greta comes out -- you know, a half-hour, 40 minutes later -- and said: Man, you should hear what they did to Tribe. You know, they beat him up too.

(CROSSTALK) WOODRUFF: Are we reading too much into this?

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, this is like -- this is lawyers playing with a ouija board. I mean, we love doing this. I mean, we analyze every single question. I am even going through the transcript, going through the questions again. I mean, we lawyers love to do this. but sometimes they are just playing devil's advocate. I mean, you can't -- you really can't read into anything any of the questions.

Of course, if later they decide consistent with their questions, we would go: Ah-hah.

COSSACK: Yes, we knew all along.

VAN SUSTEREN: We knew all along. Yes, right. This is the fun part about lawyering, is trying to guess what the questions mean.

WOODRUFF: Well, just for the sake of what you are doing here then: Which justices seemed to be asking the tougher questions on each side? Let's talk about that?

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, I think that clearly the toughest was Justice Scalia. And the question that sort of really hit home with me was when he posed to Larry Tribe on behalf of Vice President Al Gore, and it was this. He said: Look, the Constitution says that the legislature is the one who basically determines the manner by which we select the electors. The Constitution says it's the legislature.

When the Florida Supreme Court decided its case, it said: Look, the Florida Constitution says voting is real important, and that trumps this conflicting law that the state legislature wrote. So we're going to go with the Florida Constitution. What Scalia says is: Wait a second. That's taking the legislature's power away from them. And I thought that that was a difficult issue for Larry Tribe.

COSSACK: You know, for me, it was when Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- Justice Ginsburg -- looked down at Olson and looked at Olson and said -- what I said earlier -- don't we have to be extremely deferential to a Florida -- or to a state court?

WOODRUFF: How should we view?

COSSACK: And how should we view? And unless we can find some kind of fraud and some kind of -- some major issue involved.

(CROSSTALK)

COSSACK: No. I just felt that that really was a statement of intent by her. I mean, I felt that that was what she was thinking. I could be wrong.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know what the problem is, is that that's fine, but you know what diluted her was Justice O'Connor, the other woman justice, when said, you know, basically: A rule's a rule. And when the Florida Supreme Court changed it from November 24 to November 26 for the certification deadline, she came back to that a couple times. She was fixated on that.

COSSACK: And that shows the argument, because each of -- then you get into this notion of statutory construction. And if the Supreme Court did do this, if they reconciled the two statutes, isn't that what they are supposed to do? I mean, you can see what the argument was today.

WOODRUFF: Early -- quickly -- early speculation: O'Connor and Kennedy may be the centrists.

COSSACK: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: They weren't in the beginning.

WOODRUFF: Is that premature to assume that?

VAN SUSTEREN: In the beginning, when we had a more liberal bench, they were very conservative. Now, they're the centrists.

COSSACK: Yes, they are the centrist. And I think they are the key votes in this.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I won't venture. I won't guess.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Roger and Greta, you're all on transcript. We're going to bring back this audio tape.

All right, much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: We're going to get reaction from the two campaigns to today's arguments before the nation's highest court. And we're going to hear from Jeff Greenfield: his thoughts on the politics of the Supreme Court decision in the presidential race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: This legal struggle is, of course, a highly charged political showdown as well. Our Candy Crowley and Jonathan Karl are covering the candidates at the center of it all.

First to Candy with the Bush camp in Austin, Texas -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, en route home -- go ahead.

SHAW: No, please, go ahead.

CROWLEY: Let me anticipate the question: any reaction about what the Florida Supreme court had to say. And the reality is: no official reaction. But, as you know, in court, the Bush team lawyers have been trying very hard to keep that recount that the Gore camp wanted to speed up from happening at all.

So, obviously, this is a legal victory for them. And the political arm will be celebrating that as well. But we know that most of these victories are pretty transitory. George Bush, on his way home from his ranch in Crawford to the governor's mansion here in Austin, did call Ted Olson, the man who argued the Bush case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He thanked Olson for the job that he and his team have done and the hours that they put in.

Olson replied that he thought that the case had been pretty strong, but he made no prediction, which pretty much leaves the Bush camp exactly where everyone else is: watching and waiting and guessing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): What the Bush team wants is a clear U.S. Supreme Court win.

GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: Will it end the entire process in the state of Florida? That, I think, might be the most optimistic thing to expect. And clearly, I think it will give direction. But the relief that was sought certainly wouldn't address virtually every single contest that's ongoing.

CROWLEY: What the Bush team fears is a clear Gore win: again, not because it necessarily decides things, but because it will shape decisions to come. What some in the Bush camp think they may get is a mixed decision. Said one source close to the legal team: "I don't think any institution in America wants this dead mouse at their door. If it's murky, everyone thinks they got something." Both sides, the source said, "will come out and flog it, and nothing changes. The message is: proceed on."

The question then becomes: Where does it end? A political source within the campaign says: "There is a clear recognition by Bush that he has shared that there are things he will not sanction, things he will not do, things he will not go beyond." Asked for specifics, the source said there was a desire not to have the Florida legislature move precipitously: that is, to jump into the fray before it absolutely has to get electors certified.

But what if a court-ordered vote tally comes up with Al Gore as the winner? The source was elliptical: "There is a continuing desire to have the Florida's action be an affirming or confirming act."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: But for now: What's next for the Bush team? For lawyers, it's back into court on Saturday in Florida. And for George Bush, it is back to Crawford, where he will discuss the legislative agenda for the 107th Congress with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Candy Crowley.

Al Gore's children all were inside the Supreme Court for this day's arguments, along with his campaign manager, Bill Daley, and his chief observer of the Florida recount, Warren Christopher.

Jonathan Karl is here in Washington covering the Gore camp's take on the high court case -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP)

... not to go forward, not to grant the Gore campaign's request to begin the hand counts immediately. The Gore campaign saying that that is a serious blow, they're disappointed, but not necessarily a devastating blow -- and certainly not a devastating blow, because they say it was a highly unusual request to ask the Florida state Supreme Court to intervene while their trial was still underway and, in fact, not to begin until tomorrow in the circuit court.

So the Gore campaign saying they're disappointed that the counting won't begin immediately, but saying that it's not -- it's an incremental problem, it's not a devastating problem. And, in fact, they say they scored somewhat of a victory here in a pretrial hearing at the circuit court, where Judge Sanders Sauls said that he would do everything in his power to make this an expedited hearing; in fact, saying that he expected this trial to be a one-day, 12-hour trial.

The Gore campaign saying, if that's the case, if it is to be a one day trial, that means counting can begin as early as Sunday and perhaps Monday. That's still leaving enough time to count those 14,000 disputed ballots. But, of course remember, when they filed that petition with the Florida state Supreme Court, the Gore campaign used very stark language, saying if the counting was not to begin immediately it would become nearly impossible to count all the votes. Now they're trying to make the best out of a more difficult situation.

As for the Supreme Court's case -- as you mentioned, the vice president sending all four children to watch but he, himself, kept a very low profile today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL (voice-over): Al Gore remained out of sight, ensconced in the official vice presidential residence while the nation's highest court considered the Florida recount. The suddenly camera-shy vice president left the megaphone to his point-man before the Supreme Court.

LAURENCE TRIBE, CORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I certainly didn't think there were any curveballs, and there was nothing that disturbed the court that we were unaware of; and in that sense, it's always a relief.

KARL: A little relieved, maybe; but the Gore team is reluctant to venture a guess as to how the court will rule.

TRIBE: I have learned from 29 other arguments that you can't always guess anything about where the justices will come out from exactly what they ask.

KARL: In other words, it's hard to spin the Supreme Court. Not that some of Gore's democratic allies in attendance didn't try.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And I'm confident that the court will rule, reflecting the need to protect voters' rights.

KARL: But officially, the Gore team is not spinning today's hearing because, senior aides say, the vice president wants to make it clear he will not second-guess the Supreme Court, whichever way it rules.

Although the court is looking at a relatively narrow aspect of the election dispute, some of Gore's democratic allies are looking for the justices to speak decisively about this most indecisive election.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I hope, though, for the sake of the country, that whatever decision they make would be unanimous, similar to what was done in Brown versus Board of Education.

KARL: Gore's aides acknowledge that, even with a decisive victory in the Supreme Court, the vice president faces a tough battle in the Florida courts.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think it's going to be a lot harder for Al Gore to continue with his case in Florida if the Supreme Court here acts against him.

KARL: And aides fear a decisive loss here, although it may not affect the legal battles in Florida, could be a devastating blow in terms of public opinion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: And even as the vice president stays away from the cameras, behind the scenes at his residence at the naval observatory, he is very much taking a hands-on approach to his legal battles. I'm told by sources down in Florida on the Gore legal team that the vice president is in continual phone contact with his lawyers down there. Not just David Boies and Ron Klain, the people on the front lines of this case, but talking with people involved in very specific aspects of his legal battles, keeping in touch, keeping up to date on the legal minutia of these various court battles. The vice president very much having his fingers in all of these pies.

Back to you, Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan, a question to you and to Candy -- first to you, Jonathan: Are your campaigns anticipating -- whatever the high court rules here in Washington -- are they already strategizing over how they're going to publicly react?

KARL: Well, clearly they are. One of the things going on with the Gore campaign is that they are very aware that they cannot be seen as second-guessing the Supreme Court's decision. So even if the Supreme Court comes out and hands a clear victory to George W. Bush, you should not expect to see anything directly from the vice president or from his top aides questioning the wisdom of that decision.

The vice president very much knows that this is an important time, that they're looking for something decisive from the Supreme Court, and that it would be a bad public relations move to be seen as second-guessing the highest court in the land.

That said, if they do lose -- you already hear some of the spin coming out -- that this is an incremental loss, because, of course, the Supreme Court is deciding simply a question of -- of these disputed ballots in terms of -- has nothing to do with the contest of the election in Florida that is going on right now.

In other words, even if the vice president loses, all that means is that his deficit down in Florida goes back to 930 votes. He knows that the Supreme Court, unless they go beyond what is before them right now, beyond the specific case, will not affect directly the contest phase of their legal battles down in Florida.

SHAW: OK, thank you, Jonathan Karl. Candy Crowley has stepped away to get some more information. Thanks a lot -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And joining us now from New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. And Jeff, you've been doing some thinking about the very spectacle of the presidential contest being before the Supreme Court.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think, in fact, Judy, that that may be more significant than what the court decides. The fact that for the first time that anyone can think of the United States Supreme Court has directly involved itself in a dispute relating to the election of a president of the United States, it's just one more thing to add to the list of we've never seen this before.

It's important I think to underline what Jonathan Karl just said, which is that for all of the spectacle and the idea that we actually heard the justices questioning the lawyers just as soon as that court ended, what they actually decide will not necessarily be the most important court decision -- not by a long shot -- because all they're deciding is whether or not the final count when certification happens should have been 537 or 930.

And I have to say, Judy, for all the talk about the enormous psychological impact, just imagine that the Supreme Court hands down a decision favoring Bush, and we're all interpreting that as the death knell to the Gore campaign, and then that judge in Seminole County says, guess what, these absentee ballots are being thrown out, that's 4,700 votes out of Bush's title, Gore's now ahead by 3,700 votes.

So I think we need to be careful before we put too much weight on the consequence of what the Supreme Court will do as opposed to the sheer jaw- dropping astonishment of watching this.

WOODRUFF: Jeff, you don't see an enormous psychological, even political advantage that Bush would gain if, if, if the decision were to come down in his favor?

GREENFIELD: Oh, surely it would be -- I don't know how to judge court impacts on psychology -- but surely, the politics of it would be that the Bush campaign would say, OK, here's another thing, Al Gore, that's against your favor. Now, for heaven's sakes, give up. All I'm saying is, given what we've been through already, it would not surprise me for a minute if the Supreme Court announced its decision -- let's say, it's a hypothetical, that it favored the Bush argument, and two hours later Seminole County throws out those absentee ballots, and here we go again.

I'm simply -- I don't disagree at all that it will help the winner in some incremental sense, as Jonathan said. The idea that this will settle everything -- we've been saying this thing is going to be over -- well, first we thought it would be over November 7th, didn't we? So let's just -- let's just wait and see. We've got so many different courts involved at so many different levels that there's no way to know how big an impact the court decision will be.

WOODRUFF: And Jeff, do you think it will be even less of an answer to anything if it's a split decision?

GREENFIELD: No, because, you know, 5-4 decisions have changed American life drastically. I understand the argument that particularly when the court gets into sensitive political issues they like it to be unanimous: not just Brown versus Board of education, which was the 1954 school desegregation case. But you'll remember that when the court in 1974 ordered Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, there was no dissenting vote.

They like that, but you know, to the extent that we can read anything into the questioning, which I realize is, even for court experts, dangerous, it didn't exactly sound like the entire court was moving in the same intellectual plane on this one. So, you know, if it's a 7-2 decision one way or the other, that's still going to produce what you talked about, the psychological and political impact. But it's not going to change the fact that -- that -- that the court decision will be interpreted, whether it's 7-2, 6-3 or 9-0. Or they even say, you know what, we were wrong to grant cert in the first place, we're dismissing the case. You just can't guess on this stuff.

WOODRUFF: Jeff, and I have another question for you. I want to tell our viewers in the meantime that we are waiting for another announcement any moment now from the Florida Supreme Court spokesman. And we want to -- of course, we'll stay there. There's our camera in front of the Florida Supreme Court building.

But in the meantime, back to you just quickly, Jeff, given the fact that the presidential contest, at least a piece of it, has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court, do you think that candidates in the future for the presidency are going to be any less-inclined to bring up what the court does, how it votes, who they like on the court and so forth, as we do hear in presidential contests from time to time?

GREENFIELD: No, because the court has always been a part of American political life and the argument over the Supreme Court has gotten more politicized. You raise a fascinating question. I had asked a couple of our experts given the fact that Governor Bush has publicly praised Justices Scalia and Thomas and Al Gore publicly chastised Scalia and Thomas and Rehnquist, do they think that will have any impact? And the response back was look, these justices really do try to insulate themselves from that level of political involvement. So, I think the court's going to be part of our political life because it is such a uniquely American, powerful institution. It's changed our lives, you know, almost ever since we've been a republic. So, I rather doubt that the candidates will shy away from talking about the court in the future.

WOODRUFF: Jeff, I'm just curious. As someone trained in the law as you were, what struck you about -- let me go right now to Craig Waters in Tallahassee, Florida Supreme Court.

CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: First, the court has consolidated the cases of Fladell (ph) and Katz (ph). The court also has issued an opinion in these consolidated cases. I'm going to read to you concluding portions of the opinion.

As a general rule, a court should not void an election for ballot form defects unless such defects cause the ballot to be in substantial noncompliance with the statutory election requirements. A vital consideration guiding the courts in determining whether an election should be voided is the reluctance to reach a decision which would result in the disenfranchisement of the voters. Indeed, as regards defects in ballots, the courts have generally declined to void an election unless such defects clearly operate to prevent that free, fair, and open choice.

And the present case, even accepting appellate's allegations, we conclude as a matter of law that the Palm Beach County ballot does not constitute substantial noncompliance with the statutory requirements. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's dismissal with prejudice of the complaints. That is signed unanimously by all seven members of the court. Thank you. I believe we are done for the night.

WOODRUFF: Craig Waters with the Florida Supreme Court announcing he is done for the night. I interpreted what he said to indicate that the Florida Supreme Court is turning down the request by voters in Palm Beach County to consider whether the so-called butterfly punch card ballot is a ballot that was unconstitutional, shouldn't have been used. CNN -- let's turn now to our election law analyst, David Cardwell.

David, Is that how you heard it?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: That's how I had heard it, Judy. And I don't think that that was really a surprise. We've had case law in Florida going back to the mid-70s saying that said that a confusing ballot was not the grounds for overturning an election. I think what the court has done here, and it'll be interesting to see the full opinion, is that they've really tried to clarify that and make it clear that if you're going to challenge an election on the basis of a ballot being confusing, it's a very, very heavy burden and one that the court will not want to get into if they can avoid it, and they avoided it here.

WOODRUFF: So, David, is this the end of the challenges to the butterfly ballot?

CARDWELL: Well, probably not. This case, this issue still hasn't been fought out in the federal court. So, it may be that someone will try to take an action there. But, again, this should be a matter of state law, even though a federal election was involved. The state law governing the way the ballot's laid out and the use of the ballot should be controlling this instance. So, it's probably really the end of any challenge to the butterfly ballot that had any opportunity to succeed.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Cardwell, a former Florida election official. Thank you very much. And also our thanks to Jeff Greenfield, whom we just said a good-bye to abruptly before we went to the Florida Supreme Court. Thank you both and INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Now, for more elaboration on what's happened with Florida's Supreme Court, back to Tallahassee and correspondent Susan Candiotti -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Hello, Bernie.

Let me give you the latest information first, and that is we have just received, as you heard moments ago, from a spokesperson for the Florida Supreme Court that the court combined the cases, appeals from two groups of Florida voters in Palm Beach County.

These people had asked the high court to consider scheduling a revote, a new election, in effect, in Palm Beach County because these voters claim that they were confused by that butterfly ballot, the one that covered two pages with the holes down the middle. These voters had claimed that the ballot confused them and caused them to vote for the wrong candidate. These were people who had intended to vote for Al Gore.

But the court combined these two cases and rejected the notion saying that the standard wasn't quite met where they felt that this ballot was confusing enough to cause them to schedule a new election, that the defect was not great enough for the court to do so and that was a unanimous decision by the Florida Supreme Court.

Now, let's back things up a bit to another announcement made just about a half-an-hour before that. This one is the Democrats are playing down. It is dismissal by the Florida Supreme Court. The high court refusing to accept a petition by the attorneys for the Gore campaign asking that the high court order an immediate recount of those 12,000 or so contested ballots.

Now, the high court has said that it did not want to get involved at this time, leaving open the possibility that if something else extraordinary came up, it might revisit it. I don't think the Democrats, according to their spokesperson are very hopeful that that would happen. Instead, they say, this was not totally unexpected. They said that they realize this was an unusual request on their part, asking the Supreme Court to take that kind a role, ordering an immediate recount.

Instead, the Democratic spokesman Ron Klain said -- legal adviser to the Gore campaign -- that it would be -- their pinning their hopes now on this hearing that is going to happen here in Tallahassee before a Leon County Court judge tomorrow, at which time, evidence will be presented. It is supposed to be a day-long hearing. At which time, that judge said he would consider whether to order a recount of the contested ballots or for that matter, perhaps all of them.

Now, one more matter taken up by the court here. They announced that they would accept pleadings by a deadline of Monday afternoon from a man who lives on the West Coast of Florida, a man who is challenging the constitutionality of a manual recount. That's it from the Florida Supreme Court for this day.

However, earlier this day, a couple hours ago, about 406 -- no, 654,000 ballots arrived here after an eight-hour drive from Miami-Dade County, the second caravan in a row, another ballot convoy, if you will. This one arriving just around 4:00 this afternoon. These are ballots that will go into a vault in a protected manner. These are adding up to a about 1 million ballots in all, coming in from Miami- Dade County as well as Palm Beach County yesterday -- about more than 460,000 arriving yesterday.

And you'll recall that it was a judge in Leon circuit court who wanted all these ballots to come up at the request of the Republican Party to keep them all here just in case a recount of all million or so ballots is, in fact, ordered.

Bernie, back to you.

SHAW: Thank you, Susan, for that excellent report; Susan Candiotti with the latest from Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And in yet another Florida case, democratic voters filed a lawsuit against the Martin County canvassing board in a bid to throw out all absentee ballots. Most of those ballots were cast for George W. Bush. The voters allege that Republican Party officials were allowed to alter ballot request forms by adding voter identification numbers to applications that had been left blank. The county supervisor of elections says her staff did not violate any law.

The case is similar to one in Seminole County. A democratic lawsuit contends that Republicans tampered with absentee ballot applications. The suit seeks to throw out all 15,000 absentee ballots cast in the County. The trial is set for next week.

SHAW: The Republican-dominated Florida legislature is moving ahead with possible plans to call a special session to pick the state's presidential electors. A legislative committee voted to recommend a special session. Sources say it would probably begin Tuesday. However, Senate President John McKay said today he will spend this weekend reading a report on whether to take the move. If it happens, the electors, of course, would be pledged to Governor Bush. WOODRUFF: And to just about our only non-Florida recount story today: fresh evidence that an independent counsel is pursuing an indictment of President Clinton after he leaves office. Robert Ray has been investigating whether criminal charges should be brought against Mr. Clinton for allegedly lying about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Informed sources tell me that Ray's office is contacting potential witnesses to appear before a sitting grand jury. Sources say that any witness list would certainly include Ms. Lewinsky herself. Her attorneys were not available for comment today. Ray has told CNN in the past that a decision whether to prosecute would come, quote, "very shortly" after the president leaves office.

SHAW: Ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, would Al Gore's recount scenario pan out? Brooks Jackson looks at two expert opinions.

Plus, we will hear more of this day's arguments before the United States Supreme Court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Today's hearing before the United States Supreme Court focused a great deal of attention on the recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court regarding recounts and certification. The Bush attorneys asked that the justices overturn the state court decision, while the Gore attorneys urged that it stand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY M. KENNEDY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: You have said that the -- or suggested here, the Florida legislature now has no role. You are now suggesting that this court has no role. That means the Supreme Court of Florida is it, so far as judicial interpretation of the consequences of 3USC, section 5.

TRIBE: Well, Justice Kennedy, first of all I do want to be clear that, in our view, the question of whether and when and how the Florida legislature can enter the picture is in no way presented here. That paragraph was intended to suggest that it's not obvious, that the views of some that there's no problem, is right. Secondly, if it were the case that the Florida legislature could not simply decide well, we're tired of all this counting, we're moving in and that this court cannot decide whether the conditions of 3USC section 5 are met, it would then remain only for Congress to make a determination and adding the Florida legislature would not, after all, have added an adjudication.

KENNEDY: And my point is that puts hydraulic pressure on your (UNINTELLIGIBLE) argument and makes it a very, very important argument, and a critical argument in this case.

GINSBURG: I do not know of any case where we have impugned a state Supreme Court the way you are doing in this case. I mean, in case after case, we have said we owe the highest respect to what the state says -- state Supreme Court says -- is that state's law. THEODORE OLSON, BUSH ATTORNEY: This a very unusual situation, Justice Ginsburg, because it is in the context of a presidential election and it is in the context of federal rights. This court has, in the areas in which we've described in our brief, undertaken to review the meaning and effect of the state Supreme Court or a state court decision under certain circumstances; we submit this is one. What the Florida...

GINSBURG: But I've said -- and even in the very cases that you cite, as I check them, that we owe the highest respect to the state court when it says what the state law is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Excerpts from today's hearings and -- a hearing -- and joining us once again to put these legal arguments in context, CNN's Charles Bierbauer at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Charles, you were there for the 90 minutes when these arguments took place. Charles, what do we learn from the questions that the justices asked of these attorneys?

BIERBAUER: Well, look at that excerpt that you just played between Ted Olson, the attorney for George Bush and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What Justice Ginsburg is saying is that they owe enormous respect to the Florida Supreme Court. It's a very simple, very transparent way of saying that the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to readily overturn a ruling of the Florida court where the Florida court is interpreting Florida law.

What the Bush attorneys are arguing here, of course, is that this deals with the federal Constitution. We hear about Article II of the Constitution in terms of choosing electors, we hear about the timeframe, that the law must be in place at the time of election. That's this section 3 -- 3 section 5 of the election codes. And of course, if the Bush people can convince the justices that there is a federal issue here, then there is a reason why this court might get involved.

But we heard hesitance on the part of several justices. That's the reason for that kind of line questioning -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Charles, it was very clear that not all the justices seemed to subscribe to that line of thinking.

BIERBAUER: Well, there was a lot of discussion about the role of the legislature. And you probably noted in that earlier clip where Laurence Tribe, who is the attorney for Al Gore, was saying, let's not get into the legislature at this point. The Gore people do not want to have to deal with the role of the legislature. They'd like to just have this be adjudicated as a matter where the Florida Supreme Court was interrupting the law down there.

When you get into the legislature, if you get into that role, then you're getting to the point of who chooses the electors. Is that a matter for the legislature, which is what the Constitution really says, or is that a matter for the courts, which the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about? -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Charles Bierbauer, a fascinating 90 minutes for all of us to pour over. Thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: And just ahead, would a manual recount of this truckload of ballots include enough votes to put Al Gore over the top? We'll find out what some statisticians say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Two university economists, experts in statistical projection, have each taken a cold statistical look at how many votes Al Gore might pick up if he wins in court. Neither of them has worked for either campaign. Both say they took up the subject out of curiosity, for the sheer love of crunching numbers. But Gore may not like the odds they calculate.

Our Brooks Jackson reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What are the odds? Longer than Al Gore figures, according to two new studies by economists at two different universities.

Gore's lawyers say a full hand recount in Miami-Dade alone would put Gore in the lead statewide. Their arithmetic was simple: Canvassers counted about one-fifth of the precincts in Miami-Dade before quitting. That partial recount produced a 157-vote gain for Gore that wasn't included in the certified total.

Gore lawyers just multiplied, projecting the remaining precincts would yield Gore votes in the same ratio, for an additional gain of 600 and a total Gore gain of 757.

But the new studies say that's wrong.

BRUCE HANSEN, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Those projections were unreasonable. I don't think any statistician alive, with the Gore team or not, would have signed onto that.

JACKSON: Professor Hansen's mathematics are more sophisticated, examining the data precinct by precinct. His projection: Gore in all likelihood won't gain more than 179 more votes from the uncounted Miami-Dade precincts, possibly as few as 15: not 600.

One reason, Hansen says the partial recount hit the most pro-Gore precincts, and the rest tend to favor him less. Indeed, a second study concludes there's one in a 10 chance Gore could lose votes.

PEYTON YOUNG, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: There's a chance that Bush would actually end up the net gainer in the remaining precincts to be counted. There's a possibility of that.

JACKSON: Professor Young's calculations put Gore's likely change from the uncounted precincts from a minus 62 votes to a gain of 283. And that's based on very sophisticated methods, choosing possible variables by chance and projecting each precinct's possible outcomes over and over again.

YOUNG: About 1000 times we ran this so-called "Monte Carlo" simulation trying to estimate how many votes net for Gore or Bush you would get out of a manual recount.

JACKSON: And if these projections are correct, it means Gore would still need to gain votes in other counties, even if Miami-Dade conducts a full hand count.

Gore is asking the courts to add in 188 votes he gained in the Palm Beach recount and 52 votes he gained in a Nassau County machine recount, both excluded from the certified total.

(on camera): But even if Al Gore got all that and a full hand count in Miami-Dade, Professor Young figures Gore's chances of overtaking Bush are about one in three.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And no official comment from the Gore camp, but one top aide told CNN that there are more uncertainties involved in any future recount than mere statistical analysis can accurately calculate.

WOODRUFF: And there's much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. Bernie will talk about the presidential election dispute and today's arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court with former Clinton White House counsel Lloyd Cutler and former Bush White House counsel C. Boyden Gray.

Plus, the bottom line in all this for Al Gore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: In the presidential election standoff, another blitz of courtroom action from the supreme legal body to Florida's highest court.

WOODRUFF: We'll consider what today's arguments and decisions mean for Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): This process is threatening to get out of control. Can someone step in and impose some order?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Bill Schneider gets decisive in the political "Play of the Week." ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to this extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Well it's another one of those days in the undecided presidential election when it's difficult to keep up with the courts.

Among the latest developments, a short while ago the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot is constitutional and it dismissed a revote. That after the state high court rejected a request by the Gore camp to immediately begin a hand count of disputed ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. All 1 million or so ballots cast in both those counties now are in Tallahassee before a state circuit court hearing tomorrow on whether any of those punch cards should be counted again.

The judge in that case ordered the impounding of ballots from three other counties as well in response to a request by the Bush campaign.

A federal appeals court in Atlanta has agreed to hear oral arguments in two Bush campaign appeals. It argued that hand recounts of presidential ballots in Florida are unconstitutional.

All this after the U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments for and against its intervention in the presidential election dispute.

SHAW: During the 90-minute Supreme Court session, the justices were aggressive in their questioning of both Bush and Gore lawyers, especially regarding the matter at the crux of this case: Is the election dispute a federal or a state matter?

Here's a sample of the questioning of Bush campaign lawyer Theodore Olson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLSON: Why should the court -- why should the federal judiciary be interfering in what seems to be a very carefully thought out scheme for determining what happens if you are right?

O'CONNOR: If it were purely a matter of state law, I suppose we normally would leave it alone, where the state supreme court found it, and so you probably have to persuade us there's some issue of federal law here.

DAVID SOUTER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress wanted this court to get into the issue at this stage, it seems passing strange to me that, despite all the elaborateness of Section 15, there wouldn't have been some mention of federal litigation proceeding the Section 15 preceding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Now a sample of the justices questions for Gore campaign attorney Laurence Tribe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIN SCALIA, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: Professor Tribe, I would feel much better about that resolution if you could give me one sentence in the opinion that supports the second of these supposed alternative readings, that supports the proposition that the Florida Supreme Court was using the constitutional right-to- vote provisions as an interpretive tool to determine what the statute meant. I can't find a single sentence to that.

TRIBE: I think, Justice Scalia, I can do a little better than find a sentence.

GINSBURG: Mr. Tribe, before you finish, I would like to know whether you are conceding, because some of the things you said sound like maybe you are, that the Florida legislature, under Article II, Section 1, could say, "We don't want any judicial review of anything about the manner in which we say electors should be appointed." Does the Florida legislature have the authority to cut out judicial review?

TRIBE: No. No, I certainly don't think so.

REHNQUIST: You say you don't think this statute permits this court to get into the matter at this time. Are you suggesting there could be any judicial review of a decision by the Congress to count one set of electoral votes over...

TRIBE: No, I don't think so, Mr. Chief Justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Here now to discuss this day's give and take at the high court, former Clinton White House council Lloyd Cutler and former Bush White House counsel C. Boyden Gray.

Of all the questions asked by the justices, what struck you most?

LLOYD CUTLER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: what struck me most was that the justices were coming at these problems from entirely different points of view. They may very well end up unanimously as so often happens, but they each seemed to have different reasons and different sets of questions. It's typical of any Supreme Court argument. I think Ted Olson, counsel for the Bush team, had gotten maybe one minute into his argument before he was peppered by the first question from Justice O'Connor. By the time he'd finished, he thought this was bound to come out for the Gore team.

Then Larry Tribe got up there, and he was peppered all the way through. And by the time he finished, he thought it was going to come out for the Bush team. They were probably both wrong. It's always mistake to read too much into the questions the court asks.

SHAW: Boyden.

C. BOYDEN GRAY, BUSH WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well I agree with that. I think you can never go wrong by saying it's difficult to predict how they'll come out. But what struck me, reading the transcript, that wasn't there is that both sides seemed to come at the question, maybe the Supreme Court was wrong, what is the remedy -- the Florida Supreme Court was wrong, what is the remedy.

And what I get out of this is the sense that maybe they wonder that it's not the Supreme Court that should be resolving disputes but rather the legislature, the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress may be the ones to resolve disputes here, not this court and not even the Florida Supreme Court.

SHAW: I want your considered reaction to this question: The integrity of the United States Supreme Court is of paramount importance. How does this high court here in Washington preserve that integrity with its ruling?

GRAY: Well, I think they preserve it if they have a unanimous ruling. I think that's the simplest way to do it. And it reminds me, you know, of when I clerked for Chief Justice Warren, and he told us how important, he felt, at the time of Brown versus the Board of Education to have a unanimous ruling. And so I would hope -- I would think that here they might be striving for that. It might be difficult, but I think that would be far better than a 5-4 ruling for either side.

SHAW: What do you think?

CUTLER: Well, I think, Bernie, that the court is the lynchpin of the whole American system of checks and balances and separation of powers and that it's a good thing that the court took the case. And the public will respect the opinion of the court, especially if it is reasoned out, as it usually is, and will feel that in this situation, where there's no single good answer, that the court did the best it could and that it came out with a fair result.

SHAW: You're two lawyers with different points of view. Very honestly, do you believe that the Florida Supreme Court trumped the state's election law?

GRAY: I believe it did. And that doesn't mean that Gore wins or loses, but I do believe that they rewrote the law and I think this is not the end of the matter.

CUTLER: It was a very Delphic opinion. This was the point that Justice Scalia focused on, as you know. But one could reason the opinion -- unfortunately it isn't that clear -- as meaning that the court was not using the Constitution to trump the Florida election procedures, but it was using the Florida Constitution to help it interpret the true meaning of the Florida election procedures. Now that sounds like a very fine point, but that's at the very center of whether there is or isn't a federal question here.

GRAY: Well there isn't any question that under federal law, the law involved here and the Constitution, the Florida Constitution cannot trump a federal law vesting certain powers in the Constitution, vesting certain powers in the Florida legislature. And Scalia pointed out, Justice Scalia pointed out that the method of interpretation used by the court was stated in a separate section under the Florida constitutional provisions.

SHAW: C. Boyden Gray, Lloyd Cutler, gentlemen, thank you. Good to see you.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, senior White House correspondent John King on Al Gore's biggest challenge: the legal fights in Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the Bush/Gore tug-of-war over the White House plays out in a number of courts, the vice president has the must invested in the battle, since he is the one who trails in the certified Florida vote count. CNN's John King takes a closer look at legal and political stakes for Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For all the attention on the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida is where the votes are and where the vice president is most in need of a legal breakthrough.

The judge hearing the vice president's challenge of the official statewide results holds a key hearing Saturday. At issue: whether to manually inspect some 14,000 ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to determine if machines failed to register votes for president.

JACK QUINN, SENIOR GORE ADVISER: I do believe with all my heart that the American people, as eager as they are to get to a final resolution, would not want to see this country make a mistake, and more importantly, or as importantly, would not want to see thousands and thousands of their fellow citizens have their votes cast aside.

KING: And in Republican-leaning Seminole and Martin counties: Democratic lawsuits to disqualify thousands of absentee ballots on grounds local GOP officials were wrongly allowed to fix faulty applications. A ruling favorable to Gore in any of those cases could wipe out the 537-vote edge Governor Bush has in the official statewide count.

The U.S. Supreme Court case heard Friday has no direct connection to any of the key cases pending in the Florida courts, but the major issue was whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its limits in an earlier dispute over Gore's recount effort, and the high court's ruling could dramatically reshape the legal climate in Tallahassee.

JAN BARAN, ELECTION LAW ANALYST: The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court is going to give guidance to the Florida Supreme Court in terms of the perceived scope of power of state courts in these types of disputes.

KING: The scene outside the court was a reminder this is a political debate too. And with some Democrats getting nervous and the Congress due back in town next week, the high court's ruling could shape that debate as much or even more than it does the legal climate.

MARSHALL WHITMAN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The Supreme Court ruling is Al Gore's life support system. Without it, likely, other Democrats will defect.

KING: The official Gore line is that it is the Florida cases that matter most.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: But a top Gore adviser says everybody within the vice president's camp, including the vice president himself, knows that for the political support to be sustained for this challenge they desperately need a legal breakthrough in the next several days. In the words of one who speaks to him several times a day, he is under no illusions. By the middle of next week, he better show progress or it's time to go -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John King, thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: And we have this late news, John and Judy, from Washington state. A recount in the Senate race there shows Democrat Maria Cantwell defeating -- defeating Republican incumbent Senator Slade Gorton. The final tally puts Cantwell ahead by 2,200 votes. Senator Gorton's expected to concede later today: in fact, at a 9:30 p.m. Easter Time news conference.

Cantwell's election puts the Democrats and the Republicans at a 50/50 tie in the Senate if Joe Lieberman does not become vice president.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, amid all the legal proceedings, our Bill Schneider issues his ruling on "The Political Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: What a beautiful building.

From Washington to Tallahassee this week, the focus was squarely on legal, not political, maneuvers. In county, state and federal courts, lawyers and judges waded into the politically charged fray.

Our Bill Schneider joins us now with some thoughts on the process -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Bernie, this process is threatening to get out of control. Can someone step in and impose some order? That would be wonderful. It would also be the political play of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Meet Judge N. Sanders Sauls -- isn't that a perfect name for a judge -- of the Leon County Florida circuit court. He was chosen by lot to hear Al Gore's case contesting the Florida vote. Like Sam Ervin of Watergate fame, Sauls is a simple country judge with all the toughness and wiliness that label implies. DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Your honor, I think the court knows that we're not threatening the court with anything and we're not pretending anything.

JUDGE N. SANDERS SAULS: Well, even if you were, it wouldn't bother me.

BOIES: Wouldn't bother you a bit? I wouldn't expect it to.

SAULS: No.

SCHNEIDER: Al Gore's attorneys are racing to beat a December 12 deadline for Florida to choose its electors. But Judge Sauls would not be pressured.

SAULS: We can't have people just running off and, you know, jumping on the horse again and riding off in all directions, just counting.

SCHNEIDER: George W. Bush's attorneys argued that it was unfair to recount just the disputed ballots in two south Florida counties. Instead, they want all the ballots recounted in those counties, over 1.1 million of them.

Judge Sauls' response: Let's get the ballots up here to Tallahassee with the help of his good friend Mr. Greenberg.

SAULS: My friend Mr. Greenberg is in the rescue perhaps -- let's find out.

Go ahead, Mr. Greenberg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, we will send up, with our ballots, along with all the instructions and a sample ballot.

SAULS: You know, I really like that guy.

(LAUGHTER)

SAULS: Well, now, wait just a minute Mr. Greenberg. You're going to send up a sample what?

UNIDENTIFIED MAKE: A voting booth -- a sample voting booth, and ballot instructions that we had posted at the precincts.

SAULS: All right.

SCHNEIDER: And so began a strange caravan of ballots up the length of Florida. An image that recalled a low-speed car chase involving a certain Mr. Simpson and a fateful document dump involving a certain Mr. Starr.

But Judge Sauls' orders were: keep on truckin'. And when he delayed the hearing on the recount until the ballots arrived, Gore's lawyers complained hopelessly.

SAULS: Over Mr. Boies' objection, so ordered. Do you need to be heard?

BOIES: No, no, your honor. I know when it's futile.

SAULS: We're doing the best we can.

SCHNEIDER: The decision: Who is to be the next president could be in this man's hands. You know what? We could do worse.

SAULS: This is the best that I can fashion, to at least be unfair to both sides equally. And I don't see how I can do anything else.

SCHNEIDER: Here comes the judge to try to control this situation and to claim the political "Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The state Supreme Court has turned down Gore's request to immediately begin a recount. Meanwhile, the Bush team asked for another 1.1 million ballots from three more countries to be transported for a possible recount and Judge Sauls order that those ballots be impounded.

Well, in the words of the late, great Jerry Garcia, whom we just heard from, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

SHAW: And it's not over; thanks Bill Schneider.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" coming up next.

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