All three papers lead with the arguments presented before the Supreme Court as it sought to determine how (and if) it will resolve Bush's appeal of the extension of the vote-counting deadline in Florida. At issue is whether the Florida Supreme Court acted in accordance with the law when it revised the cutoff date for tabulating ballots. The justices grilled lawyers from both camps during a 90-minute session in which the five typically conservative justices seemed to favor Bush's claims and the four typically liberal ones leaned toward Gore's. The New York Times and the Washington Post off-lead the Florida State Supreme Court's refusal of Gore's bid for an immediate recount. The Los Angeles Times off-leads (and the WP fronts above the fold) the possible outcomes of the U.S. Supreme Court's deliberations, focusing on the ideological split within the court that makes unanimity unlikely.
Lawyers for Bush argued that the Florida judges acted against state law when they extended the established deadline for counting votes. Gore's lawyers argued that the Florida court's ruling hadn't "changed the law"; rather, it resolved a conflict between two parts of it--the stipulation of a seven-day deadline and the call for hand recounts. Neither side emerged with a distinct advantage, and it's not clear that the Supreme Court would even rule on the case because the process of selecting electors falls under state, not federal jurisdiction. Justice O'Connor told Bush's lawyer, "You probably have to persuade us there is some issue of federal law here. Otherwise, why are we acting?"
Although it's not clear how Gore fared in the U. S. Supreme Court, he suffered a setback in the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected both his plea for an immediate recount and his objection to the "butterfly ballot." Gore's main hope now lies in his contest lawsuit, which is scheduled to begin Saturday. Lawyers from the Bush camp backed off from their plan to delay the trial by demanding a full recount in three additional counties. Instead, they consented to having ballots from those counties seized as evidence that could be introduced later in court.
The LAT off-leads and the WP fronts analysis of how the precise breakdown of the Supreme Court vote is virtually as important as the ruling itself. In presidential matters, the court typically seeks to reach a unanimous decision, but the ideological biases of the justices makes unanimity unlikely. Legal scholars have cautiously predicted a 5-4 vote in favor of Bush, though they don't rule out the possibility of dismissal, which, according to one First Amendment specialist, would "preserve the institutional autonomy of the court from the political process." Acutely sensitive to the credibility issue, the court took the unprecedented step of allowing a tape of Friday's arguments to be broadcast in an attempt to demystify the judicial process.
There is one election that has been determined. The LAT fronts just below the fold Democrat Maria Cantwell's victory over Republican Slade Gorton in the Washington U.S. Senate race. Margin: 2,229 votes out of almost 2.5 million cast. Cantwell's election yields a 50-50 split in the Senate. (That balance would be lost, however, if Gore successfully contests the election, in which case Sen. Lieberman's seat would be filled by a Republican.) If Bush takes office, Cheney's tie-breaking vote as VP would give the advantage to Republicans.
The WP reports that Bush's strategy is to proceed as though the outcome of the election is not in doubt. He has scheduled meetings with congressional leaders in the hope of forming a bipartisan coalition, one that he would need to move any legislation through an evenly divided Congress.
All three papers front the inauguration (that's a strange word) of Mexican President Vicente Fox, who promised to end Mexico's virtual one-party system and eliminate all residue of authoritarian government. Among his pledges: emphasis on education, commitment to indigenous affairs, and expanded Internet access throughout the country.
A WP front-pager reports that Gen. Augusto Pinochet was indicted and placed under house arrest for killings and kidnappings (the LAT and NYT run the story inside). The indictment, which could lead to a criminal trial, was made possible by the fact that 19 victims, because they were never recovered, are legally considered to have been kidnapped, a charge not covered by the amnesty laws the former dictator has appealed to.
The NYT fronts a report that Allstate and Progressive Insurance have raised their rates for sport utility vehicles, pickups, and large vans because they cause more damage in collisions. Farmers Insurance Group plans similar rate increases next year.
All three papers go inside with a story that Iraqi officials have halted oil exports in what is regarded to be a strategic move by Saddam Hussein to put pressure on the U.N. Security Council (set to convene next week) to relax economic sanctions against Iraq.