Everybody leads with yesterday's two election-related court rulings: the U.S. Supreme Court's asking the Florida State Supreme Court to clarify its previous decision delaying Florida's certification of the election in order to include the results of some manual recounts, and a Florida trial judge's rejecting Al Gore's contest lawsuit requesting still further manual recounts. Since Gore immediately appealed the Florida ruling, both cases are now before the Florida Supreme Court. The majors view the state court action as the more momentous and as a serious blow to Gore. The USA Today headline says his "CHANCES FADE" while the New York Times' says the state Supreme Court is Gore's "LAST HOPE." The Los Angeles Times lead says Gore's prospects have now dwindled to "virtually nonexistent." The NYT off-lead headline says, "AURA OF PESSIMISM PERVADES THE VICE PRESIDENT'S TEAM" over a story that has downer quotes from the Democratic Party chairman.
Everybody highlights the Florida trial judge's view that the Gore lawyers had not produced evidence showing "by a preponderance a reasonable probability" that Florida's election outcome might indeed be different than the Bush victory the state certified. The judge also emphasized that there was no showing of fraud or gross negligence in the state's vote counting. The papers note that the Gore appeal of this ruling will focus on showing that this is the wrong standard. What Gore's lawyers will argue is rather that there merely must be evidence placing the outcome in doubt. And several papers quote lead Gore trial attorney David Boies saying, "I don't think anybody can say that the result of the election has not been placed in doubt by the evidence that is there." And the NYT lead says that the "judge's refusal to look at the ballots" that he'd had trucked up to his courtroom "would be a highlight" of the appeal.
The NYT lead editorial says the Florida judge is "mistaken" as a "matter of law and common sense" and holds that his proof standard was "arbitrarily set." The Washington Post lead editorial says that the judge was right in declining to order a count of dimpled ballots and goes high with its suggestion that Gore has "a responsibility to begin contemplating the manner in which he might abandon his quest."
Everybody reports that Boies expressed the Gore side's willingness to let the Florida Supreme Court be the end of the election dispute one way or the other. The NYT says that some Gore lawyers "privately" acknowledged that the ruling was a "devastating blow," and it explains in concrete terms why: The Dec. 12 elector designation date looms, but the appeal will take at least a day or two, and the disputed-ballots recount it will argue for would take five days.
All the leads and the Wall Street Journal's main story on the rulings remind that there are still other live legal cases bearing on Gore's challenge, though--most potently the cases in two counties brought by private citizens alleging a mishandling of absentee ballot applications that could cost Bush thousands of votes, lots more than his current edge.
It's been clear for a while that Disney has been lobbying hard against the Time Warner/AOL deal, but the WSJ reports today that another heavyweight company has weighed in with the still-deliberating Federal Trade Commission: Microsoft. The paper says Microsoft has been complaining to the FTC "behind the scenes" (Weasel Word Watch: Was the Journal working "behind the scenes" when it earlier called sources for this story but didn't publish anything until today?) that it would like the same high-speed Internet access over Time Warner's cable lines that Time Warner recently made available to Earthlink but, Microsoft says, Time Warner wants too much money for those rights and is refusing to negotiate further. The story says Microsoft's complaint has raised "strong misgivings" at the FTC because it suggests that Time Warner/AOL is achieving the open cable system the commission is looking for by including a comparatively weak competitor but excluding a stronger one. But the story doesn't explain what sort of openness antitrust law requires.
In an LAT op-ed, a Stanford med school professor who has published on presidential health and disability argues that Dick Cheney should resign. He writes that after four heart attacks and disease in five coronary branches, Cheney's outlook is "significantly worse" than that of a man his age with no coronary disease. And he enumerates a number of relevant questions Cheney has thus far refused to answer: Have Cheney's bypass grafts narrowed since they were made in 1988? Does he have high blood pressure? How overweight is he? What prescription drugs does he take?
An NYT inside story reports that in its decision setting aside the Florida Supreme Court's recount decision, the U.S. Supreme Court also ordered the Palm Beach County election board to pay George W. Bush $300 toward filing fees Bush lawyers incurred.