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The BBC's Philippa Thomas in Washington DC
"The first time an American election has come to the highest court"
 real 56k

The BBC's Paul Reynolds outside the Supreme Court
"You cannot tell which way they are going to rule"
 real 56k

Adam Clymer, New York Times
"They have taken a fairly narrow set of issues for this case"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 December, 2000, 22:37 GMT
Supreme Court weighs Florida ruling
Political protests are taking place outside the court
Political protests are taking place outside the court
The US Supreme Court has ended a historic hearing that could decide the winner of the presidential election, but issued no immediate ruling.

And the Supreme Court of the state of Florida is due to begin deliberating on Saturday on whether disputed manual recounts in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties should restart.

Florida result
Bush: 2,912,790
Gore: 2,912,253
Bush majority: 537
Nearly six million votes cast
In Friday's federal hearing, judges vigorously questioned both Republican and Democrat lawyers, struggling for the first time with a case that will directly affect an unresolved US presidential election.

Lawyers for Republican candidate George W Bush argued that the Florida Supreme Court had overstepped its authority by extending a deadline for the certification of votes cast in the 7 November ballot, and allowing a manual recount.

The nine judges heard lawyers for Mr Bush's Democrat rival, Vice-President Al Gore, argue that the Florida court was within its rights, and had acted to ensure that all the votes count.

Intervention questioned

After the 90-minute hearing the court adjourned to consider its ruling, which is expected early next week.


Why should the federal judiciary be interfering in what seems to be a very carefully thought out scheme?

Justice David H Souter
More than one judge questioned whether they should intervene.

"Why should the federal judiciary be interfering in what seems to be a very carefully thought out scheme?" Justice David H Souter asked Bush lawyer, Theodore Olson.

In near-freezing temperatures, hundreds of noisy Republican and Democratic supporters protested outside the court, chanting and waving placards.


At a glance The BBC's Washington correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says that if Mr Bush wins, Mr Gore will be under severe pressure to concede the election.

If Mr Gore wins, he simply fights on.

Historic case

The US Supreme Court has not been embroiled in such a highly charged political controversy since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, when it ordered the then president, Richard Nixon, to hand over his White House tapes.

George W Bush
Bush accuses Gore of changing the rules

Mr Gore's lawyers are racing against time, as a deadline of 12 December looms for Florida and other states to select members to the Electoral College which will meet on 18 December to pick the next president.

Florida is crucial because both candidates need its 25 Electoral College votes to become president.

Gore's case

Mr Gore's last hope lies in the many votes he says were never counted properly in Florida.

On Saturday a hearing is due to begin in the Florida Supreme Court on whether manual recounts should restart in the disputed Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Al Gore
Gore says recounts will produce a fair result
A Democrat plea to order the count restarted immediately which would have pre-empted Saturday's hearing was thrown out by the court on Friday.

Both Palm Beach and Miami-Dade failed to complete their recounts by a 26 November deadline set by the court, after which election officials certified a Florida result giving Mr Bush a 537-vote lead in the state.

Florida threat to Gore

In a separate development, members of the Republican-dominated Florida legislature are planning to meet to appoint the state's 25 Electoral College members - a move, the Democrats say, that could trigger a constitutional crisis.


Meanwhile, some 460,000 ballot papers have arrived in the Florida capital, Tallahassee, under heavy armed protection from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties..

The move was ordered by a judge in Tallahassee after the Democrats asked him to examine thousands of disputed ballot papers.

But he is not due to begin considering whether to order a recount until Saturday.

A second "ballot caravan" taking the ballots from Miami-Dade pulled out of Miami just before dawn for the 520-mile (837-kilometre) journey north to Tallahassee.


At a glance

Latest

  • 1 Dec: Federal Supreme Court hears arguments for and against manual recounts
  • 1.16 million ballots from contested votes in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties arriving in Tallahassee

    What next?

  • 2 Dec: Florida court hearing on whether disputed recounts should restart
  • 12 Dec: Deadline for Florida to certify votes. Florida legislature may appoint electors if election still in dispute
  • 18 Dec: Electoral college meets in each state to elect president
  • 6 Jan: Congress counts electoral college votes. If no winner, House of Representatives chooses president and Senate vice-president 20 Jan: Inauguration Day. If no president chosen, House speaker is acting president

    Story so far

  • 7 Nov: On election day US TV networks call Florida for Gore, then Bush, then say too close to call. Close result triggers automatic recount
  • 14 Nov: After deadline for certification and hand recounts in some Florida counties Bush still has narrow lead
  • 18 Nov: Official count, including overseas ballots, increases Bush's lead to 930 votes
  • 26 Nov: After extension of hand recounts, Bush declared winner by 537 votes, but court battles continue

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