Washington Vice President Al Gore fought for the White House in the U.S. and Florida supreme courts Thursday as the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature took steps to override any victory he might win.
As his rival struggled against time, Texas Gov. George W. Bush continued to try to portray himself as president-elect, meeting at his ranch with retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the almost certain secretary of state in a Bush administration.
In his 23-day-old effort to overcome Bush's slim lead in Florida, Gore asked the state Supreme Court to order an immediate hand recount of 13,800 contested ballots that the vice president contends could reverse the results. A state court judge had denied Gore's request to begin a manual recount earlier this week and scheduled a hearing Saturday on whether to conduct a recount at all.
In preparation for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing today, Gore's lawyers argued in a brief filed in Washington that the Florida Legislature does not have the authority to override voters' wishes by appointing its own slate of presidential electors.
The vice president's lawyers asserted that Congress established Election Day as the one date on which electors would be selected by voters. Florida voters made their choice Nov. 7, the brief said, "although by a vote so close and under a counting process so flawed that the state's courts are still attempting to ascertain ... what the choice was."
Gore advisers have questioned not only the legal right of the Legislature to appoint electors, but also whether it is ethical for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the candidate's brother, to sign off on legislation in a special session to appoint them.
Florida lawmakers cite Article 2, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution, which gives state legislatures the power to decide how electors will be appointed. Jeb Bush said Wednesday that selection of electors by the Legislature may be necessary to assure that Florida's 25 electoral votes are counted when the Electoral College convenes Dec. 18, and that if circumstances require such legislation, he would sign it. The winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes will win the presidency.
Despite protests from Democrats, a joint House-Senate committee voted along party lines Thursday to recommend that Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay call a special session, which could begin as early as Tuesday.
The remarkable step, never before taken anywhere in the country, could render meaningless any Florida court ruling in Gore's favor.