Ruling has 2 sides in a tizzy

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2009 - 7:34 AM

A decision giving Al Franken the Senate seat didn't just trigger a Norm Coleman appeal, it unleashed a flurry of fresh emotion.

WASHINGTON - The national debate over Minnesota's Senate dispute boiled with new energy Tuesday.

Republicans encouraged Norm Coleman to fight on; Democrats pressed him to give up.

Revving up for the clash now headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sent out an appeal for donations calling Monday's court decision "a fundamentally misguided ruling that disenfranchises over 4,000 Minnesota voters."

The fundraising message, signed by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the NRSC chairman, said fundamental principles of due process and equal protection are "under attack in Minnesota."

The ruling, by a three-judge panel, swept aside Coleman's legal claims and declared DFLer Al Franken the winner of the race by 312 votes.

Democrats, noting that Minnesota has gone 100 days without a second U.S. senator, accused the Republicans of stalling to keep Franken from becoming the party's crucial 59th Senate vote -- one shy of a filibuster-proof supermajority.

"Enough is enough," said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee chairman. "Former Senator Coleman's insistence on continuing his quixotic quest for this seat at best shows that he is putting his own political ambition ahead of the people, and worst that he is complicit in an effort by national Republicans to deny Al Franken this seat for as long as possible.''

Pundits, bloggers and legal scholars also joined the fray, not always in a partisan way.

"When are the Republicans going to give up the ghost on this?" said MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida. "Seriously. Norm, I like you. You lost, OK? It is seriously not fair to constituents in Minnesota to drag this out any longer. It's over Norm, OK? It's over."

But conservative legal theorists who have championed Coleman's case say it should be far from over, even if he faces an uphill battle.

Among them is Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Elections commissioner and point man on voting rights in the Bush administration's Justice Department.

Von Spakovsky said the three Minnesota judges were wrong to dismiss Coleman's core contention that widespread irregularities in the treatment of absentee ballots rendered the election unfair.

"Frankly, it seemed like the three-judge panel was more concerned with protecting the supposed reputation of Minnesota as conducting elections in a [fair] manner than seriously dealing with the problems that came up in the recount," he said.

Other legal scholars differ. Among them is Hamline University and University of Minnesota public policy and law Prof. David Schultz, who said the judges followed Minnesota law in not permitting an additional 4,000 disputed ballots. "The Equal Protection clause [of the U.S. Constitution] does not guarantee a perfect election," Schultz said.

Iron Range Democrat Jim Oberstar, the dean of the Minnesota congressional delegation, also weighed in Tuesday. "The process has been full and fair, but it has now run longer than the [Elmer] Andersen-[Karl] Rolvaag recount of 1962-63, which Rolvaag won by 92 votes," said Oberstar, who has largely stayed out of the recount fight. "Norm Coleman owes it to the people of Minnesota to take a decency page out of Elmer Andersen's record of public service and end this travail, while people still have a positive impression of him -- or risk leaving a sore loser legacy."

Texas Sen. Cornyn, meanwhile, warned Democrats against a rush to judgment. "It's frankly shocking that many of the same Democrats who so loudly decried voter disenfranchisement during the Florida recount in 2000 have so quickly run away from that principle when it no longer fits their political agenda," he said.

Though Coleman has made clear his intention to press his case, much of the nation's punditocracy seems to have decided that he will need a legal miracle to reverse his fortunes in court.

"Of course Coleman will appeal, but it's looking more and more likely that we'll be calling the former SNLer 'Senator Franken' in the very near future," wrote Justin Gardner, founder of the nonpartisan Donklephant blog. "Frankly, I don't see what other legal rabbits Coleman can pull out of his hat. ... So yes, it's time for Coleman to accept defeat and hang it up. Otherwise he'll kill his chances to challenge Franken in the next election."

Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753

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