What Next for Campaigns' Legal Eagles?

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As befits the sense of urgency down in Florida, Al Gore's most recent appeal to the state's Supreme Court is moving through legal channels at breakneck speed. Earlier this week, the Gore campaign filed charges against Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the Bush campaign, charging Harris had abused her discretion by refusing to include the hand recounts into Florida's official tally.

Friday afternoon, the Justices enjoined Harris from certifying the Florida vote before they'd had a chance to hear arguments from both campaigns. By Saturday at 2 p.m., the Gore camp had submitted legal briefs to the court, by the same time Sunday the Bush camp had done the same, and on Monday afternoon, lawyers representing Bush (the defendant) and Gore (the plaintiff) will each have an hour to plead their case before the Justices themselves.

What can we expect from the lawyers on Monday?

Bush's lawyers will point to a section in Florida election law requiring all votes to be submitted by a certain deadline (in this case, 5 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14), arguing that the secretary of state has every legal right to disregard new tallies received after that point. The GOP will also focus on the possibility of fraud in the manual recount. At a Saturday afternoon press conference, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes was laying that groundwork, claiming that election workers were stepping on ballots, using them as fan and placing them in the wrong piles, among other abuses.

The Gore team is likely to offer two arguments: The first revolves around a 1999 Florida Supreme Court ruling that a vote could be invalidated if there was "reasonable doubt" that the election totals reflect "the will of the electorate." The Gore team is likely to incorporate this precedent into their oral arguments. The second is based on a Florida election statute allowing local governments to authorize manual recounts, which, according to the Democrats, effectively permits each county a large degree of autonomy regarding recounts.

What can we expect from the court on Monday?

There are several options available to the court:

One: The Justices could hear the oral arguments, confer, and decide quickly to deny Gore's request that the hand recounts be included in the tally. That would mean that George W. Bush, leading so far by more than 900 votes, could be declared the next president by Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Two: The Justices might listen to the arguments, confer and decide quickly to uphold Gore's request to include the hand recount numbers in the statewide tally. This would mean the recounts would continue, and we could still be waiting for a final number for a few weeks. (Miami-Dade county officials announced Saturday they would try to complete their recount by December 1).

Three: The Justices may decide they need more information, take a few days to do further research and ask the legal teams to come back after Thanksgiving.

Four: The Justices could also decide to bar the recounts from the final tally, permit Katherine Harris to certify the existing votes and tell the Gore camp to file a new motion when they are prepared to contest actual election results.

Let's say the court finds for Gore. What happens next? The Florida Supreme Court is by no means the end of the line: Either side could push the case on to federal court, a course of action which could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court. Already, Bush's team has voiced its willingness to reintroduce its constitutional challenge to the hand recounts in federal court, and they could have a receptive audience. Even as it denied the Bush team's lawsuit on Friday, the U.S. District court in Atlanta indicated it might reconsider the case once it had run its course in the Florida state courts.