US waits for Supreme Court ruling, new blow to Gore


Tension is building up as the US and the world awaits a ruling from the US Supreme Court that could decide the presidential election five weeks after the voting.

Both Vice-President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush kept a low profile, working at their official residences in Washington and Austin, Texas.

The nine judges were deliberating their decision after hearing oral arguments on Monday from the lawyers for Mr Gore and Mr Bush. The judges questioned the legal teams on their claims.

Mr Bush is appealing against a decision by the Florida Supreme Court ordering hand recounts of all disputed ballots in the state. The US Supreme Court halted the recounts until it heard the appeal. Mr Gore had up to then been gradually overtaking Mr Bush's official lead of 537 votes, certified on November 26th.

Five of the judges who voted for the injunction had done so on the presumption that Mr Bush had a "substantial probability of success". But it does not follow that these judges on the conservative wing of the court will uphold Mr Bush's appeal and ban further recounts.

If the court refuses to allow more recounts, Mr Bush seems certain to become president and Mr Gore could concede soon after such a ruling.

The more liberal minority on the court had opposed halting the recounts.

If the majority, who were appointed by Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan, now rule that the recounts cannot go on, Democrats will see this as influenced by ideological and political factors. Observers now fear that by agreeing to hear the Florida election dispute, the Supreme Court will have damaged its reputation for impartiality.

Whoever wins in Florida receives the state's 25 Electoral College votes, which would be enough for a majority. The 538member college representing the 50 states will vote next Monday and the candidate who reaches a majority of 270 votes is the next president.

But given the closeness of the vote in Florida, uncertainties have crept into what is usually a smooth process following election day.

Thus, the Florida legislature was yesterday getting ready to vote a list of Republicans as the state's representatives to the Electoral College. This is because the Republicans, who have a majority, feared that various court actions could reverse the certification of Mr Bush as the winner.

The Democratic minority has opposed this action by the legislature as putting the result in Florida into the hands of politicians instead of voters. The Republicans cite a 19th century law which authorises the state legislature to appoint the electors in the case of a problem.

If the Electoral College vote next Monday remains in dispute, it will be up to the US Congress to try and resolve it when it meets on January 6th to count the votes. Various scenarios then become possible as the Senate and the House of Representatives cast separate votes.

The Senate will have a one-vote Democratic majority, with Vice-President Gore having the casting vote. The House will have a five-vote Republican majority. The US Constitution and federal law are not entirely clear on what happens in the event of a disputed Electoral College vote - so the issue may have to go back again to the US Supreme Court.