Losing Count

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 10 2000 7:58 AM

Losing Count

All three papers lead with yesterday's order by the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the manual recount in Florida that began hours earlier--thus agreeing to Friday night's emergency appeal from Texas Gov. George W. Bush and overturning Friday's plan by a divided Florida Supreme Court to recount some 43,000 ballots. The Supreme Court split 5-4 on the decision, according to the papers, which call the order "a sudden and devastating blow" and "a stinging blow" to Vice President Al Gore's "best hope of erasing Bush's tiny Florida lead." In doing so, asserts a front-page Los Angeles Times legal analysis, "the U.S. Supreme Court all but cleared the way for Texas Gov. George W. Bush to win the presidency." A Supreme Court hearing on the issue will take place Monday morning. Each paper fronts only one nonrecount story: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unexpectedly announced his resignation yesterday; he will seek another term and a new mandate for his peace policies in a special February election.

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According to the Washington Post, Bush's camp began yesterday by challenging calculations that Bush led Gore by just 154 votes on the basis of the Florida Supreme Court's decision. Monday's oral arguments, predicts the WP, will be based on whether or not the Florida Supreme Court has invented new post-Election Day rules for conducting the presidential election, rather than allowing the power of selecting presidential electors to remain with the state legislature. Even if the Supreme Court rules for Gore following Monday's arguments, the paper writes, there might not be enough time to complete the recount before Florida's Tuesday deadline to name its 25 presidential electors.

A New York Times news analysis asserts that the Supreme Court's 5-4 split, "along ideological if not partisan lines," is analogous to the Bush-Gore division in the American people, the Florida electorate, the 50-50 teeter-totter in the Senate, and the narrow majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives. Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted for the stay along with the court's most conservative justices (Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist), said Bush has a "substantial probability of success" in overturning the Florida Supreme Court's decision to order the recount. In the other corner, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined in his dissenting opinion by the court's most liberal justices (Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter), wrote, "Preventing the recount from being completed will inevitably cast a cloud on the legitimacy of the election."

Although the Gore camp believes that Tuesday's deadline is not absolute (the members of the Electoral College don't meet until Dec. 18), the WP predicts that any further delays will result in the Florida Legislature naming a set of pro-Bush electors, in turn sending the dispute to Congress in 2001. All three papers make reference to the ironies that have plagued this presidential election for more than a month. Throughout the dispute, writes the NYT, the Democratic legal team has pointed out the paradox of the GOP, "usually so solicitous of state sovereignty, seeking federal court intervention to stop the recounts." A WP analysis elucidates how both sides claim to be acting to save the United States from the resultant "disaster" if a "questionable electoral process were to go forward, producing a president whose legitimacy would be widely doubted." The LAT takes the same tack, describing the flip-flop that occurred after yesterday's decision: "Republicans were exultant and Democrats outraged, exactly the opposite of their feelings the day before."

Exhausted with the incongruity that has prevailed since Nov. 7, a NYT editorial today decries the Supreme Court's decision to overrule the Florida Supreme Court: "As we said when the decision was announced, the key principle is simply that elections should be decided by the votes actually cast." The NYT goes on to say that even though the paper urged Gore to concede if he lost his appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, they are now calling on Bush to "exhibit fortitude and statesmanship" by allowing the recount to continue, claiming that Bush has been one up the whole time, "[w]ith Florida's governor, the secretary of state and the legislative leadership supporting him."

Though the stopgap announcement by the Supreme Court ostensibly gave pause to American news, the rest of the world was by no means stock-still. All three papers front the announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday that he will resign to seek another term and a new mandate for his peace policies in a special February election. Taking advantage of a special law that allows the PM to resign and force elections for the premiership alone within 60 days (the new general elections were expected to occur in May), Barak, according to the NYT, made it difficult for anyone in his own Labor Party to run against him. Moreover, this move may keep his popular right-wing rival, former PM Binyamin Netanyahu, out of the race. The WP explains that Barak's popularity among voters has receded as the violence surrounding the 10-week-old Palestinian uprising has increased; until tonight, Barak's hopes for winning the election were pinned on reaching a peace deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Barak said that an accord seems unlikely to occur before the Feb. 10 election and dismissed the claim that he was trying to disqualify Netanyahu from running.

"Any candidate who wishes to run is welcome to do so," Barak said. "I do not believe anyone can predict the results."