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U.S. Supreme Court Sends Hand Count Case Back to Florida Supreme Court; Leon County Ruling on Hold

Aired December 4, 2000 - 11:44 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Bill, Bill, I'm going to have to go and interrupt you. I mean I know that was a huge moment, but it looks like we have a huge moment right now, coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just getting word from Associated Press that they the U.S. Supreme Court has set aside the ruling on the hand counted votes in Florida.

Bill, as long as we have you here, let's get your first reaction to that: the high court setting aside the ruling on the hand counted votes in Florida.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Now, I'm sorry, I'm being interrupted, but you were saying that the Supreme Court is doing what?

KAGAN: Right, while were watching Chuck Berry -- while we were watching the Chuck Berry tribute, the word coming across the wires is that the U.S. Supreme court has set aside the ruling on the hand- counted ballots in Florida, which would mean, sounding like, they're overturning what the state Supreme Court did in Florida.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, they've set it aside, meaning that they have overturned the state Supreme Court ruling? That would be a tremendous victory for George W. Bush because that's exactly what we asked the court to do, and would give his campaign a tremendous momentum.

But I want to make sure we're clear on this: Did they set aside the state Supreme Court ruling? I'm not sure that's what it means, or did they decided to...

KAGAN: They have overturned the Florida Supreme Court decision extending the deadline for certifying the presidential election.

Let's go ahead, Bill, we'll have you stand by.

We'll also bring in Frank Sesno, who, I think, is standing by in our Washington bureau.

Frank, are you with us as well?

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am with you, yes I am. KAGAN: Are you seeing the same news come out of the wires.

SESNO: Yes, I'm seeing the same news here. I'm having a little bit of difficulty here with the computer, unfortunately.

KAGAN: Well, here on my computer, Frank, I have Associated Press reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Florida state Supreme Court on its ruling, which did extend the deadline and allow for those hand counts in the state of Florida.

SESNO: Well, Daryn, let me tell you what we're doing here in Washington right now. We're getting Bob Franken -- he's been at the court, along with Charles Bierbauer, they've been waiting for this. They've got this decision here.

I believe Charles Bierbauer -- Charles Bierbauer is up.

Charles, what have you gotten? What can you tell us?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the short of it is that they have reversed the opinion by the Florida Supreme Court in a seven-page what-is-called-a percurium (ph) opinion written by the court with no signed signature on the part of the any of the justices. I would have to be honest, I have not read the whole thing, but the bottom line, it says -- and I'll just quote a couple quick lines here: "The Supreme Court of the state of Florida interpreted its election statutes in proceedings brought to require manual recounts of ballots in the certification of the recount results." Pardon me for being out of breath.

We're, actually, all siting in the courtroom, listening to arguments in another case, when a person from the press office came through and handed this to us, and it comes down to the bottom line -- it says: "After reviewing the opinion, we find that there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds for the decision," the Florida decision. "This is sufficient reason for us to decline, at this time, to review the federal questions asserted to be present." So they're not taking up the federal questions here.

KAGAN: Charles, are you are able to tell what the split of the justices was?

BIERBAUER: No, this a percurium brief. There is no split in this. This represents an opinion of the court in its entirety. There are no, no dissents filed, and then, the bottom line, as I say, is the judgment of the supreme court is vacated. The case is remanded for further proceedings, which means the Florida Supreme Court would have to take another look at it again if it chose to do so, or else it would remain vacated.

KAGAN: Charles, explain just a little bit more to us what it means by a percurium -- a percurium brief.

BIERBAUER: A percurium -- a percurium is an unsigned opinion by the court. And it represents...

KAGAN: Why would they do it that way?

KAGAN: They do that in certain cases where they do not necessarily address all of the issues before the court.

And when I get full chance to read through all seven pages of this, I'll probably get a little better explanation, but they say that they're not taking up the federal issues here.

But they are ordering the Florida court to vacate its ruling and take a look at it again, if chooses to. but what it says is that it could not grant this extension of the vote-counting timeframe, because -- the court had overstepped its bounds, which was the basic argument made by George Bush.

To answer your more precisely, as I said before, a percurium brief represents an opinion of the court. It is unsigned, it represent the totality of the court. There are no dissenting opinions attached to it.

KAGAN: So that would be a stronger opinion than one that had been released that there would have been a vote on and it had been split?

BIERBAUER: Absolutely.

KAGAN: Right.

BIERBAUER: And if there had been a dissent -- a five to four, a six to three, or seven to two, or any of those -- that would show that there were strong feelings the other way. And bear in mind, there are a lot of people who suggested -- a lot of legal experts who suggested -- that the court might want to fond a way out of this whereby they could, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, not have to grant an opinion that was representative of a significantly divided court.

KAGAN: All right, Charles, we definitely...

BIERBAUER: This seems to accomplish that.

KAGAN: We've put you on the spot, here, by asking you to digest all this without having a good look at it, so we're going to let you go look at it. We'll bring you back in just a minute.

Right now, let's bring in our legal analyst Greta Van Susteren, and Roger Cossack also standing by in Washington, D.C., for your first take on this news.

GREAT VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the interesting thing to me, Daryn, of course, is the speed by which the court has acted. The Supreme Court only heard argument on Friday, but even more importantly is what does this mean, in a practical sense?

The United States Supreme Court was always concerned about what practical effect was. They asked the lawyers on both sides to brief that particular issue -- it wasn't discussed much in the argument. But the best I can figure out is that by vacating what the Florida Supreme Court did is take away from Al Gore about 500 plus votes that were included in the Broward county addition between November 14th and November 26th.

So it may change; we're looking at the very early stages, but it could change, you know, what happens in Leon County this afternoon. It may have an affect on them.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's another issue...

KAGAN: So, Roger, looking ahead -- to follow up, first...

COSSACK: There's another issue that should be talked about -- let me just follow up on this.

KAGAN: OK, go ahead.

COSSACK: One of the arguments that the Bush camp made was that if, in fact, the Florida Supreme Court acted incorrectly then, in fact, the statute of limitations, if you will, or...

KAGAN: That 10-day rule.

COSSACK: ... that statutory date -- the 10-day rule comes into effect and then the contest would be filed too late. Now, we haven't seen the opinion -- I don't know whether or not the opinion says you go back to square one and, therefore, the contest is filed too late and, therefore, the contest should be dismissed, which would really be the period at the end of the sentence.

So we're going to have to wait and see that; but there is an important issue as to whether or not, now, because of this reading by the Supreme Court the Gore contest has now come too late.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I don't think, Roger, that was raised in the contest. I don't think the Bush people actually pled that when we went into the litigation this weekend on the contest in Florida. I don't think the Bush people said, look, it was filed too late. So that, of course, would err nearer to the benefit of the Gore people. So that's important...

COSSACK: They sure argued it -- go ahead.

KAGAN: Roger and Greta, even without that, let's look at the reality here and let's say, even if the ruling out of Tallahassee, out of Leon County Circuit Court does go in favor of Al Gore -- with this decision out of the U.S. Supreme Court, he has a much bigger gulf that he'd have to make up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, no -- actually, I'll tell you -- I think, politically, the United States Supreme Court almost takes the oxygen out of the campaign of the Gore people, but not legally. What really is important is what happens this afternoon? Will that hand count go forward? I'll tell you one thing, though: if Al Gore should win this afternoon and there is a hand count that's ongoing, the big case to watch is tomorrow, Daryn, where you are, in the 11th circuit -- the United States Court of Appeals 11th Circuit in Atlanta because in that case the Bush people are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to declare the hand count in Florida as being unconstitutional.

So those are very important cases; you have to look at the, sort of, as a whole. It's a very complex legal puzzle.

KAGAN: OK, on that, a lot of folks are tuning in as this news is circulating so, once again, we want to go ahead and repeat that the U.S. Supreme Court has set aside the ruling from the Florida state Supreme Court that did allow for the extension and did allow for the inclusion of hand recounts.

Roger and Greta, we have Charles Bierbauer really going through what has been released so he can get to the issues. But for the little bit that we know, explain the significance, also for our viewers at home -- explain what this thing is called a per curiam brief. A lot of people won't be familiar with what that is -- and why would the court go ahead and do it that way?

COSSACK: Well, it's almost a political way for the Supreme Court to make a decision and to do in a way that takes away dissent. Per curiam means that, we sign it, we agree. It's like -- and there's no dissenting. I mean, speaking for the court, I think, actually is what I think the Latin phrase means. It means we are speaking for the court, and this is the court; this is what the court feels and there's no dissent and they all sign on.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I actually don't know if it means no dissent, because you see unanimous opinions by the United States Supreme Court -- you see all nine justices lay out there names in some opinions. So I don't necessarily think it's something we can read is that they were all, necessarily in total agreement. This is a decision of the court, but I actually think that -- I don't think we can necessarily think it's unanimous.

COSSACK: But we'll never know if there's a dissent, because they certainly wrote one -- no one ever wrote one. So as far as we know, this is the order -- it is the order of the court; and as far as we know, there is no one that signed a dissent.

KAGAN: They give it to give an air of unity?


KAGAN: OK, let's bring in Frank Sesno who also is along with you guys in Washington -- Frank.

SESNO: I bring in the likely political component of this. Regardless of where this legal case goes now -- and Greta, I think, was very careful in pointing out that this is a very complex legal puzzle and there are things happening, of course, in Florida, the 11th Circuit Court and beyond.

What a lot of the political players here in Washington have been saying for several days is, they're just wanting to wait to hear some of what the headlines are going to be. And this sort of headline, I will tell you, for days now, has been what Democrats have said can be very injurious, politically to Al Gore. That is to say, someone standing on the steps of the Supreme Court and saying, Al Gore lost it at the Supreme Court because the political support that Al Gore has had that accompanies the legal case is something that he has relied on to maintain public opinion as he's pursued his legal battle.

We've heard that every place he's spoken and in every question he's been asked.

KAGAN: Frank, both camps have been waiting for this decision to come out.

And we're going to check in first with Jeanne Meserve, who is standing by in Austin, Texas, covering the Bush campaign.

Jeanne, any reaction -- I know it's quick -- but any reaction yet out of the Bush camp?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, no call-backs yet from anybody in the Bush campaign. They will, of course, I'm sure, be very happy about this. This is a significant win for them. They argued, from the minute the Florida Supreme Court made that decision to let the hand recounts continue and extend the deadline for certification, that the court had usurped the legislature and had exceeded its authority. It will be ecstatic, I'm sure -- the Bush campaign -- that the Supreme Court has now decided in their favor on this one.

Governor Bush is returning to Austin from his ranch. He should be back within a half hour or so. He has some meetings scheduled this afternoon, both with Andy Card about the transition, also with Governor Bill Owens; that was going to be a courtesy call.

We had been told that there might be some sort of photo opportunity this afternoon. That might give us an opportunity to get some reaction from the governor himself. I think you can probably anticipate that, as Frank mentioned, this is a bad public relations moment for the Gore campaign; and the Bush campaign is going to do its very best to the capitalize upon it.

Daryn, back you to you.

KAGAN: All right, Jeanne, I'm sure it won't be long until we have some official reaction from the Bush camp; and we'll be going back to you as soon as you have that.

Let's go back, now, to Roger and Greta.

Explain to us how the courts work and how they might watch each other. We have one big decision down, coming out from the high court. Still waiting for that Leon County Circuit Court decision.

Does Leon -- does Judge Sauls watch what comes from the Supreme Court? Might that affect what he releases later today?

VAN SUSTEREN: We have no idea if he's lucky enough to have CNN in chambers, Daryn, so I can't tell you that. But I will tell you that a judge -- justice's job is to decide the case presented to him or her in the courtroom based on the facts and law in that courtroom and they should disregard any sort of political influence.

However, the court -- when a court make a decision -- certainly a lower court -- it looks to a higher court for authority if the higher court has spoken on the particular issue that the trial court judge is presented with. Having said that, I sure hope that's the way it's done, too.

KAGAN: Want to just interrupt your thought there -- we're just getting word now that five minutes from now we're going to hear from Leon County Circuit Court. So that big decision -- these are coming down within minutes of each other.

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court setting aside the Florida state Supreme Court's decision to include those hand recounts and extend the deadline. Five minutes from now, top of the hour, 12:00 noon Eastern, we will be hearing from Tallahassee and what Judge Sanders Sauls has to say about that.

Roger, any guesses?

COSSACK: Oh, no. I would not want to guess, after staying here last night until 11:00, sharing duties with Greta on Sunday, I would not want to guess of what Judge N. Sanders Sauls is going to do.

He was very patient; he -- clearly -- I tried to read him last night and I clearly couldn't read him. I have no idea what he's going to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: And he, Roger, very cleverly said that he shared with me until 11:00 because he wasn't here at 8:00 in the morning yesterday. So...

KAGAN: Now if you kid are not going to get along -- now, hopefully -- is this just a coincidence, do you think, that these two major decisions are coming down within minutes of each other?

VAN SUSTEREN: This is pure coincidence.

COSSACK: Pure coincidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Look, I mean, the judge said last night -- N. Sanders Sauls -- he would decide his case by noon today. Well, he might be a few minutes late.

The United States Supreme Court is lucky enough not to have any bosses or any rules. They can decide a case whenever they want. But they took the case quickly, so that certainly was an indication that they were going to decide it quickly -- but they don't have to decide anything until they want to decide it.

COSSACK: As a matter of fact, Daryn, now that I think about it, I think I won the pool on when the Supreme Court decision is coming down -- I think I had Monday before noon.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I'm representing him in the illegal pool that, apparently, he's involved in.

KAGAN: All right, Greta and Roger, we'll have you stand by. You can make your next pool, your next prediction of how this one is going to go.

Meanwhile, as I said, we are just minutes away from the decision coming out of Tallahassee out of Leon County Circuit Court.

And my partner Bill Hemmer is there, covering that end of things.

Bill, take it from here.


Just on the telephone, here, trying to talk with folks at the state Supreme Court behind me here. That's been unsuccessful just yet, but as soon as we get a break we'll go back to it.

Meanwhile, let's talk with David Cardwell, the man who knows Florida law just about as well as anyone right now.

Let's quickly talk about reaction to what we're hearing out of Washington.

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, it remains to be seen what, exactly, the Supreme Court has said; but it sounds like that they have determined that the Florida Supreme Court was not authorized to extend the deadline.

Now, what that could have an affect, depending on how they ruled, is that the contest that was filed by the Gore campaign -- the case that we've been listening to in Judge Sauls' courtroom -- that was filed based on the November 26 certification. They filed it more than 10 days after November 14, which was the original certification.

HEMMER: OK, now let's try and make this a bit simple, if we can for our viewers.

When we talk about a protest period, certification and then a contest period -- based on Florida law and past cases, how has it worked if a case such as this would be even remotely close?

CARDWELL: Well, if you've gone through your protest and then the election had been certified, you then had 10 days from the date of certification, or seven days in the case -- excuse me, five days in the case -- if a protest had been filed, to file your contest in circuit court.

If the U.S. Supreme Court is now telling the Florida Supreme Court: Roll everything back to November 14th, the contest filed in circuit court by the Gore campaign was filed too late.

HEMMER: And if that's the case, indeed, the tally we had back on the 14th, and then later on the 17th, when the overseas ballots were thrown in, was a 938-vote margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

CARDWELL: Correct.

HEMMER: What should we be watching throughout the day today, certainly we are waiting for Judge Sauls and it could be any time, basically, we have heard anywhere between noon Eastern time here, and all the way up to 2:00.

CARDWELL: I think we need to look carefully at the Supreme Court opinion, what they have said in their decision, and then see if that has any effect upon what Judge Sauls can or cannot do. Because they may have just rendered his decision irrelevant because, again, the case may have been filed too late.

HEMMER: What you are seeing right now, for out viewers on the screen there, is inside circuit court here in Leon County. That bank of microphones you might be familiar with it from a few weeks ago, when Terre Cass, the clerk over there are circuit court came to the microphone to announce a decision of then Judge Terry Lewis, who is on the circuit court here. And what we anticipate anyway is a bit of direction for how the procedure may go a bit later today when we do get that decision from Judge Sauls, David.

CARDWELL: Right, we are waiting for them to tell us whether or not he is going to just issue a written opinion or is he going to go back into the courtroom, give an oral decision from the bench, perhaps followed by a written opinion, or something else in between?

HEMMER: And we should let our viewers know that we have been trying to hunt around and gather as much as we can, based on what the judge did after last night at 11;00 Eastern time here, what he did overnight, and what he might be doing today. All we do know is that he was working on this case late into the night last evening.

CARDWELL: That is what we hear that he was in chambers very, very late.

HEMMER: Based on Judge Sauls' history, is he a quick-decision guy or is this a man who likes to deliberate, or at this point, possibly, given the time frame here, he doesn't have time to do that.

CARDWELL: Doesn't have time. I think he does want to be careful. This is undoubtedly the most important ruling he has ever made in his judicial career, probably ever will make. I think he wants to be sure he has got it right because he doesn't want to be in the position of doing something, and then having an appellant court slap him down for having done it wrong.

HEMMER: Again, we are watching the monitor here in case Terre Cass does come up. In the meantime, though, let's continue to talk about the issues at stake here. The Gore team is trying to do, at this point, go into that stack of thousands of ballots, where they believe they have votes for Al Gore. The Bush team is saying: Hang on. Under state law, you can't do that just yet. That's the gist of the argument here.

CARDWELL: That's right. The two sides are approaching those ballots in entirely different ways, which is not surprising, considering what we've been through. Is that the Gore team is saying that those ballots are evidence and that, in order to prove their case, to prove to the court that they need to overturn the election, or have a different result, those ballots need to be counted, and then that count introduced into evidence.

The Bush side says, no, wait a minute. The actual counting of those ballots would, in fact, be the relief that they've asked for. In court, if you go ahead and do that, you have, in essence, given them the relief that they have asked for in the case, and that is going too far.

HEMMER: My clock says 12:02 local time that is, our understanding anyway that Terre Cass was going to come out and make her announcement.

As we await, again, let's talk about the trial from this past weekend, Saturday and Sunday, about 22 hours of testimony. I made the comment earlier today that normally this would be a case that would go for weeks at a time, really in the high-speed lane for two days here today.

CARDWELL: That is right. It was incredibly fast, very fast. As a result, we saw a lot of things very compressed. and probably made for a lot more riveting television, but that is not the way all trials go.

HEMMER: OK, again, waiting on Terre Cass. David Cardwell, you stand by.

In the meantime, let's go up to Washington now. More with our bureau chief there, Frank Sesno.

Frank, hello to you.

SESNO: Bill, thanks very much.

We want to be sure that we bring you back now to Charles Bierbauer right away outside the court. He has had an opportunity to read this. And to give us the fine print. Some of what we initially thought needs further clarification.

Charles, let me come back to you to state very clearly and carefully precisely what the court has done with this today.

BIERBAUER: The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court. That means specifically the ruling that the Florida Supreme Court made, which extended the time frame for recounting ballots, which took it beyond the proscribed 7-day period, they are saying there is no justification for that. The justices here say: "We are unclear as to the extent to which the Florida Supreme Court saw the Florida Constitution circumscribing legislative authority."

They are saying that the court took it upon itself to extend this time frame, in contrast to the law, written by the legislature, So the immediate effect would be that you would have to roll back to the count as it was after the first and automatic recount and before those extended manual recounts were in. That would have the effect of expanding the Bush lead back up to I believe it was 930 votes.

But the other thing that it does not do, it does not intrude in the process that is going on in Judge Sauls' court down in Florida because that is part of the process stipulated post-certification, after the Florida secretary of state certifies the election returns. This will change her certification, but it would have a direct effect on changing the contest, which are what Judge Sauls is considering. Those are distinct matters that this court has not addressed.

In fact this court has said it really can't figure out where the Florida State Supreme Court got its ideas in the first place.

Remember, during the arguments here, Justice Ginsburg said, perhaps, we should remand for clarification. To some degree that is what this court has done, but it has taken the decisive step of saying: Since the Florida State Supreme Court hasn't explained how it got to where it did, and it appears to have overstepped both the federal Constitution and Florida laws, it is rolling back that decision, and it is rolling back the date, and that would have the effect of changing the numbers -- Frank.

SESNO: OK, Charles, thanks very much. Let me read the last line from this. "The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida is, therefore, vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. It is so ordered."

To Greta Van Susteren here.

Greta, we're hearing in one line here then that the judgment of the court, of the Supreme Court of Florida, is vacated, but that also it is remanded for further proceedings. Explain.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, what, Frank, having now looked at it, I think the best thing you could say is that it was a tie. But it is as a tie that is going to be broken at some point. Because what's happened is, the United States Supreme Court said to the Florida Supreme Court: We don't know how you got to where you got. We are sending it back to you. Take another look at it, and tell us how you got there.

What they are specifically confused with was a question that Justice Scalia raised during course of the argument, and that is this. They are saying to the Florida Supreme Court: Did you get your authority from the Florida State Constitution or did you get your authority from the Florida Legislature?

And this is very important. Because remember, the United States Constitution says that the authority for determining for getting the elector, who are ultimately vote for president, is a matter that's committed to the discretion of legislature. So if it goes back to the Florida Supreme Court and...

SESNO: Want to go to Leon County right now, Greta, and hear what they are saying. TERRE CASS, LEON CO. COURT ADMINISTRATOR: Status update on where we are going. I have had conversation with Judge Sauls. And we are on hold pending our being able to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision has any effect on our proceeding. Any previously announced intent to issue a ruling around 2:00 is on hold pending this review.

Now we do have some information on our other cases and Doug will share that with you at this time.

DOUG SMITH, LEON CO. COURT SPOKESMAN: These are also subject to the review of the Supreme court. So, but we will go ahead and let you know.

In the McKelly (ph) versus Bay County et al, case number 00-2802, today is scheduled for a case management and any other motions that may come before the court on Monday, December 4th at 1:00 p.m. Courtroom 3-A before Judge Ralph Smith.

Harris Katz et al v. Florida Elections Canvassing Commission, case number 00-2855. It is scheduled for case management and any other motions that may become before the court Wednesday, December 6th at 1:00 p.m. Courtroom 3-A before Judge Ralph Smith.

Tailor (ph) et al v. the Martin County Canvassing Board et al, case number 00-2850 scheduled for pre-trial motions and trial on Wednesday, December 6th, 2000, Courtroom 3-C at 7:00 a.m.

Jacobs et al v. the Seminole County Canvassing Board et al, case number 00-2816, scheduled for pre-trial motions on Tuesday, December 5th, 2000, courtroom 3-D at 1:30 p.m. Scheduled for trial on Wednesday, December 6, 2000...

SESNO: All right, you are hearing some of the menu, some of the list of legal cases pending. But clearly what we are dealing with right now are two very fast-moving stories with great importance, obviously. One is the United States Supreme Court. The other is what Judge Sauls is going to determine as to the recount, the feasibility of a further recount in the contest phase of this whole thing.

Mark Potter is outside the courthouse there in Tallahassee.

Mark, tell us what you are hearing and interpret it for us so we can follow it clearly.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, all I can tell you is that that announcement from the Supreme Court through this courthouse, the Leon County Courthouse, into a tizzy. He had said very specifically they were going to come out at 12:02, taking the television newscasts into account, to talk about how this judge was going to make his ruling, whether it was going to be in his courtroom, whether it was going to in writing. They were going to have all of these details for us after consulting with the judge.

But suddenly this ruling came from the Florida Supreme Court and now they don't know what to do, and they were huddled in the courthouse, that's why they came later than we expected. They were huddled in the courthouse trying to figure out what to say. The best that they could say is that they wanted to work on this, they will come back to us we're told at 2:00 p.m., which was the time we expected the judge to issue his ruling. Now at 2:00 p.m. we expect to get another status update on where we go.

The judge wants to look at this now to see the impact of this case on his case. And so, as I said, for a very quick moment here, within a very quick moment, this courthouse was thrown into a tizzy. They are trying to figure out what this means.

Back to you, Frank.

SESNO: All right, Mark. Thanks Mark. Stay with us now.

Let me come back to Roger and Greta here in the studio with me. What we hearing coming now out of Tallahassee, as Mark Potter report it, is the judge there trying to get his baring through this United States Supreme Court case that's just -- that's just been issued and determine if there's a connection.

Roger, what, if any, connection might there be?

COSSACK: Well, clearly, what has to happen, Frank, is this judge has to read this opinion to see whether, one, if there is ailing instructional in there for him; and, two, whether or not, for example, just the issue that we brought up, whether or not this has any effect on the time limitations, in terms of bringing a contest.

But I think the real genius of this particular United States Supreme Court decision, if there is a genius, is the fact that what they have done is, by vacating it and sending it back, they have sort of bought themselves some more time. And the real -- the real context of this case, is the case that is going on in Florida right now, which is the -- the one to contest the election.

And in some ways, if you get that decided, whatever the Supreme Court decides doesn't really become important. So therefore, what they've done is put off their own decision in hopes that, perhaps, the Florida Supreme Court will come to the decision about the contest, and then they will never really have to come to a decision.

SESNO: Greta, you have a different read on this.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't agree with you, Roger. I think the Supreme Court did almost a disservice to both sides because we needed some finality one way or another. What the Supreme Court is they ducked the issue. The said, look, we don't know Florida Supreme Court how you arrived at your decision. You go off and you re-decide it. But the problem is, we are racing against the clock, and it was not a signal to either side. I actually think it was disservice, rather than a service.

SESNO: We talking about that when I interrupt you to go down to Tallahassee a moment ago. But again, this last line, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court says is "vacated," but the case is "remanded."

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is fine and routine, Frank. They do it in cases all the time. But we don't have cases where you have a December 12th deadline.

SESNO: What does that mean in a practical effect?

VAN SUSTEREN: If -- you have got to read a little bit above it. What the U.S. Supreme Court said was: Listen, Florida, we don't know how you decide your case, so why don't you take it back, and you decide, and then we will send it right back up, and then we will take a look at it at that point. That's the problem is because you're racing against the clock.

COSSACK: I respectfully disagree. I really believe that what the Supreme Court had decided one way or another is really not what this case is about or what this issue is about.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it confused...

COSSACK: I don't think it confuses anything.

VAN SUSTEREN: I confuses Leon.

COSSACK: It sends us right back to square one.

SESNO: Let me let you try to figure it out a little bit further because clearly we don't have a decision here that offers total finality and clarity.

VAN SUSTEREN: And there in lies the disservice, Frank.

SESNO: And therein lies the issue, on both what Judge Sauls is dealing with now, what we're dealing with now, and what the campaigns are dealing with now. We are going to go around, we are going to hear from the campaigns, Eileen O'Connor is standing by with the Gore campaign. John King is here with me now.

Susan Candiotti is down in Tallahassee right now, out in front of the Florida State Supreme Court.

Susan, to you.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I talked with Craig Waters not long ago. He is the spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court, and he told me that the news from the U.S. Supreme Court had taken even him by surprise. Because he had heard earlier news reports that no decision was expected to be forthcoming from the U.S. Supreme Court today. In fact, he was out to lunch and was hurrying back here to the Florida Supreme Court.

He did confirm for me that the justices here are aware of the Supreme Court's decision. However, he said that he was coming back to be briefed by the justices, and hoped to have more information as to what the next step will be. I can remind you that it was about two weeks ago tomorrow that the Florida Supreme Court extended the deadline for the hand recount and extended that -- allowed the recount to continue until November 27th, when all of the final tallies had to be certified and sent in to the Florida Secretary of State Harris.

Of course, as we all know, after that, the contest was filed and we have this ongoing situation across the street.

We are expecting more information from the Florida Supreme Court as to what will happen next. Remember, they have one other pending matter before it today. The Supreme Court had asked for briefs to be filed by 3:00 this afternoon, by a resident of Collier County, Florida. He live in Naples, Florida, a man by the name of Matt Butler, who testified yesterday in Leon Circuit Court. And he is questioning the constitutionality of hand recounts in the state of Florida.

His case is now on appeal before the Florida Supreme Court and this court has asked that briefs be filed, arguments from both sides, both him, as well as the Florida secretary of state and the Florida attorney general on this matter. And then this court still has to decide what to do with that situation.

So a few matters pending, the most important one, of course, how this court will deal with the ruling today from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back to you.

SESNO: Susan Candiotti, in Tallahassee, thanks very much.

Again, this is the United States Supreme Court case Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. If you are just joining us, the U.S. Supreme Court has in effect handed George W. Bush at least a partial victory today in sending this thing back to the Florida State Supreme Court. Just precisely with what implications we're all trying to determine right now as are the justices and the judges involved in this and related cases.

To Eileen O'Connor now, a very important response and reaction from the Gore campaign -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you just said, everyone is really huddled, trying to figure out what this means for them and what this means for their next steps, Frank.

Basically I just talked to several Gore aides, and they say that they are huddled with their legal advisers, and they do expect to come out with some kind of an assessment of the ruling. But this clearly is a blow for them, in terms of getting those manual recounts done. And if this does now turn back the clock to November 14th, I know from having talked to one of the Bush lawyers earlier this past week, that they were looking at, if this was a decision that was made and they rolled back the clock to the original certification, as David Cardwell says, you know, you then end up having the contesting motion by the Gore campaign having been filed more than 10 days after that original certification. That makes it difficult. So there's some legal murkiness here about going forward with this motion to contest the elections.

This is definitely a blow, though. They had hoped to win. They need wins in the legal arena and they also need, from a public relations standpoint, those wins and also to be getting going with this vote counting. They believe, in order to have public support and that critical Democratic support on Capitol Hill, that they have to get that image, again, of those votes being counted and the vice president gaining vote -- Frank.

SESNO: Eileen, thanks very much.

Now, there are layers, of course, of advisers and legal teams, many, many legal teams and lawyers operating, and there are options that we understand anyway are already being considered.

To John King now.

John, what are some of the issues to the extent that you have been able to connect with anybody that are now under consideration?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, number one, first and foremost from the Gore campaign, what we will hear about this decision, as Eileen mentioned, they are still analyzing it. They will make the case this has no impact at all on the contest procedure that we're awaiting, of course, for a key ruling there in Tallahassee. They will make the case that this is apples and oranges, that there is nothing in the Supreme Court ruling that effects their contest of the election in Florida.

SESNO: Which is something they've been saying for some time actually.

KING: Something they have been saying.

SESNO: Basically separate tracks.

KING: They believe so because the state laws allows you to protest the election and to challenge the election before the certification. The contest provision must not begin until after the certification.

The key question is: What is the math that they would enter into that process with. Does the U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively cost them 567 votes, that is the difference between the initial certification by the secretary of state and when she recertified the results. The initial findings by the secretary of state. And then when she certified the results, based on the Florida Supreme Court ruling, that said you must take into account the hand recounts. That's a key mathematical question, about 567 votes.

The Gore team would tell you, they believe could amend their contest complaint in Tallahassee and ask them to re-add those votes in. They are hoping they don't get to that point. What they are saying right now, and what they will say is that this is not a loss. That essentially the U.S. Supreme Court has sent this back to the Florida Supreme Court saying: Explain yourself. And since the Florida Supreme Court issued this decision, they fully expect the Florida Supreme Court will revisit this issue and come up with a clear explanation for the U.S. Supreme Court.

SESNO: We were talking about this with Greta earlier. Since what the Supreme Court saying is here is, as I mentioned before, reading from it, that "The judgment of the supreme court of Florida is therefore vacate and the case is remanded for further proceedings," what they are saying is: Not so fast, go back, and re-approach us. And the Gore campaign, then, is saying: OK that means we await further explanation effectively?

KING: And they fully expect the Florida State Supreme Court will stand by its decision, and now offer a new explanation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SESNO: John, let's bring Greta and Roger in on this. And I actually understand we've got Jeanne Meserve standing by. She's tracking the Bush camp. Let me -- let's here from Jeanne first because we can expand the conversation.

Jeanne, jump in here with anything you have got.

MESERVE: Unfortunately, much the same story from the Bush campaign as from the Gore campaign. They are still meeting. They are looking at this decision and trying to figure out all of its implications. As we have heard, there are many interlocking pieces to this puzzle, and it's unclear at this point exactly how this one piece impacts all the others. So they are still looking, they are still evaluating, they're not making any public comment yet.

Governor Bush due back in town in about 10 minutes' time. I am absolutely sure he is aware of this decision. He has been talking with people while he's been on his ride back from his ranch down in Crawford. Some possibility perhaps we might even hear from him today since he will at least be back in town. But at this point the gore -- the Bush campaign, rather, clearly evaluating the decision.

On the face of it, it appears to be good news for them. It does appear to give them a numerical edge over what they appeared to have just hours ago. And from a public relations standpoint, they've got to be happy, once again, they may be able to say: Look, Al Gore, back off, back down, time to concede.

Back to you.

SESNO: But no proclamations of victory, at least not yet, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Absolutely not. Very much in that preliminary stage at this point.

SESNO: All right, Jeanne, we are going to will come back to you. We are going to come back to Roger Cossack, Greta Van Susteren, John King, Eileen O'Connor, and all of our reporters, including Charles Bierbauer at the Supreme Court itself, as we decipher this very significant developing in this fast-moving development. We are going to take a very, very quick break. We will be right back.



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