Justices set Senate appeal dates

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • April 24, 2009 - 8:14 PM

Minnesotans won't know who their second U.S. senator will be until at least June.

On Friday, the state Supreme Court set June 1 as the date for oral arguments in Norm Coleman's appeal of the election trial that concluded April 13 with Al Franken on top by 312 votes. The Senate seat has been vacant since early January, when Coleman's term ended with the race unresolved.

The Supreme Court schedule, set by the five justices who will hear Coleman's appeal, tracks his proposed timetable rather than a speedier one proposed by Franken.

The court wants Coleman's brief no later than Thursday, and Franken's reply brief by May 11. Coleman then will have until May 15 to file his response.

Although the court didn't adopt Franken's schedule, the timeline it has laid out is plenty fast for a civil case, said Peter Knapp, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. He said the justices want to give both sides enough time to develop their best arguments, and they also want enough time themselves to digest the thousands of pages of transcripts and exhibits from the recount trial.

"This, I think, is an example of the court doing what it's been charged to do, which is to take this case as quickly as is reasonable," Knapp said.

Coleman campaign spokesman Tom Erickson said the candidate's lawyers "are pleased that the court has granted an appropriate amount of time to prepare for this historic and consequential case."

In a statement, Franken attorney Marc Elias said he was grateful for the expedited schedule. "We look forward to the process continuing to move forward so that Sen.-elect Franken can be seated as quickly as possible," he said.

After Franken emerged from the Senate recount with a 225-vote lead, Coleman filed a lawsuit contesting the result. That trial concluded with the ruling last week.

Coleman then appealed to the state Supreme Court, saying in part that 4,400 absentee voters had their ballots improperly rejected.

Two of the court's seven justices apparently will recuse themselves from the appeal. Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson sat on the state Canvassing Board that oversaw the recount and have taken themselves off subsequent motions on the election and recount, as well as on the first two orders from the court on the appeal.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota's only senator as the longest election contest in state history drags on, said she was resigned to a longer wait. "I would have liked to have seen it sooner, but the court will do what it must do," she said.

Alluding to the extra work load her office has picked up with the other seat vacant, Klobuchar added: "My poor staff -- I've got to break the news to them."

Coleman's Republican allies in Congress have urged him to take his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. He hasn't ruled out that option.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign has launched a website called "It's Over, Norm," that is seeking to gather a 100,000-name e-mail petition calling for Coleman to concede. The committee said it is just 6,000 names short of the goal.

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere and the Associated Press contributed to this story. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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