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U.S. Supreme Court Sends Hand Count Case Back to Florida Supreme Court

Aired December 4, 2000 - 1:45 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The new questions raised over certification deadlines and separation of powers trickles down to the Leon County courtroom of Judge N. Sanders Sauls. CNN's Mark Potter brings us the latest on Sauls on again/off again verdict in this so- called "contest" that played out for 22 hours over the weekend.

Mark, what's new?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, about 10 minutes ago, we talked to court administrators here at the Leon County courthouse, and they said not that they had yet heard from Judge Sauls as to what he wants to do. They do say that they are still planning to have a 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time news conference, which is about 13 minutes from now, to bring us up to date on where this is going. Maybe by then, they will have more information. But when we talked to them before, they did not.

Earlier, it was expected that the judge would have his ruling this -- this morning. He said that last night. But then, through the court, he said he wanted some more time to go over the documents and deal with the evidence in this complex case. And we were told that he would probably make his ruling somewhere in the 2 o'clock hour, about now.

But then after the Supreme Court ruling in Washington, we were told that he wanted some more time to study that. And that's where we are right now. We do not know what he wants to do or how long he's going to take.

Now, as we heard from your interview with David Boies and from his news conference, that attorney for Vice President Gore says that that Supreme Court decision should have no bearing on this particular case, which involves a contest of the election. And he's urging the judge to render his decision today. He says it's perfectly understandable that the judge would want to take some time to study the implications of that ruling, but he says -- he argues that there's no reason that the judge should not come forward.

Still to be answered by the court administrators -- maybe we'll learn that at 2 o'clock Eastern Time -- is what the judge plans to do specifically. Is he planning to make an announcement in the courtroom before all the attorneys to make that announcement in person? That would be a much more dramatic way in this important case to announce his decision. Or perhaps, he could just file a written decision. It could either be handed out to reporters, as it was done in West Palm, with Jorge Labarga, the judge there, or it could be read by court administrators. That's happened here at Leon County before.

So a lot is up in the air. We'll get back to you when we know more. What we do know -- it's been discussed throughout the programs today -- this is an important ruling. It's not the last ruling in this case, though. This one is going to the Florida Supreme Court, sent there by the losing party, whenever Judge N. Sanders Sauls announces his decision.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: There's been, as you know, Mark, speculation about what's going on down there in Judge Sauls' chambers, but is there any reason to believe it's anything more than the judge just wants to get things right, because as we know, judges hate to be slapped back in appellate court?

POTTER: Yes, we don't -- our presumption is, based on what we've heard from the court administrators -- and that's all we can go on -- and they say that he just wanted more time to study the ruling. And yes, nobody wants to be hit by the Supreme Court, and it makes all the sense in the world -- David Boies announced that himself -- makes all the sense in the world that the judge would want the time to study this and think about it and see how it plays, how it impacts this important case that he has to deal with.

But again, we don't really know. We're just going by what we've heard from other people.

The judge, as we last heard, still wasn't in the building. So they're waiting to hear from him. And in 10 minutes maybe we'll find out if indeed they did make contact.

WATERS: All right. We'll definitely need him in the building, and we have Mark Potter covering us on down there in Leon County -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, now to the Florida legislature, where the momentum that had been building toward a special session to hand pick the state's electors has waned.

CNN's Bill Hemmer joins us to tell us about that -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Natalie, indeed that is the other branch of this ever-growing tree today. Let's talk about the potential for a special session. Today, lawmakers from both the House and Senate are back here in town today. Today is an orientation day. It's also a day where a number of committee meetings take place now. Now, normally when the state legislature convenes is a very critical day because of term limits in Florida. A number of freshmen members of the House and Senate come here to Tallahassee to start that orientation period. There are a number of freshmen members from the House.

Normally, it's a busy time, but even now this talk of a special session has people considering even more options here in Tallahassee.

Now, to update you now over the weekend and what we have heard from the head of the House and head of the Senate, the reason why these two men are so critical is because under Florida law, the head of the House and the head of the Senate can come together, sign a proclamation that calls for a special session.

But we know Tom Feeney, the head of the House, has been quite willing to go along with this for quite some time. But the head of the Senate, rather, John McKay, has been a bit hesitant. Again, he is waiting for this report that is scheduled to come out at anytime now from the special committee that was set up last week to explore the idea a special session.

So, that's what we're watching right now. No definitive word on that special session, but it's certainly something we'll keep an eye on in here in Tallahassee.

Now, I want to move away from that special session talk for a second and bring in again Dave Cardwell, who's in Tallahassee with us, and get back to the issue of a U.S. Supreme Court now dealing with things remanded back to the state Supreme Court, this flurry of activity we've seen for about two hours.

I should point out that when we were sitting here during oral arguments on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court, you said they were going to remand this case back here. Why did you believe that then?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: I thought that was the most reasonable thing for the court to do. Rather than to wade in, try to sort through the issues, that they would give an opportunity for the Florida Supreme Court to respond to what the U.S. Supreme Court saw as some questions that they had about the process.

If you remember during oral argument on Friday, only one justice mentioned remand, and that was Justice Ginsburg. But it's very clear in the opinion that they are sending it back to the Florida Supreme Court. They vacated the Florida Supreme Court order and said that they are to have further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

What it looks like is that the U.S. Supreme Court is saying, all right, Florida Supreme Court, we'll give you another try at it.

HEMMER: OK. How long before a clarification comes out of here, knowing that there's such a time crunch here?

CARDWELL: Well, we've heard earlier today that the clerks over at the Florida Supreme Court, as soon as they heard news reports about the U.S. Supreme Court decision, got right on the phone, got copies of this opinion. The justices have it; they've read it. They could do something at any time.

HEMMER: Quickly, 15 seconds, what is Judge Sauls thinking and doing right now? CARDWELL: He wants to make sure that he doesn't issue an opinion that when it gets over to the Florida Supreme Court, which is where it's headed, that they're going to say, nope, you did it wrong, do it over again. He wants to make sure he's got it right, particularly including this new U.S. Supreme Court decision.

HEMMER: I owe you five more seconds. We'll get to that in a bit.


HEMMERS: David Cardwell, thanks.

That's it from here, Natalie. We will continue to watch it. Again, clarification expected 2 o'clock Eastern Time, just about seven minutes away, on what may be happening with Judge Sauls.

Back to you in now in Atlanta.

ALLEN: All right.



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