U.S. Supreme Court rules Florida top court violated constitution

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday night that the Florida Supreme Court erred in its order for a manual recount of thousands of disputed ballots in last month's presidential election.

In an extraordinary late-night decision considered a crushing blow for the Democrats and Vice-President Al Gore the justices said the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court violated constitutional protections.

The court also said there is not enough time to conduct a new recount that would pass constitutional muster.

The opinion reads, in part: "Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional ... we reverse the judgement of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed."

George W. Bush, Gore and their lawyers were reported to be poring over the complex and detailed ruling, which came five weeks to the day after the presidential election was held.

A top aide to Gore said the vice-president wasn't going to make an immediate concession announcement.

"It is a complex decision and the vice-president wants to review it," the aide said. "We want to be able to read through it and understand before being out there speaking about it."

A statement from Gore issued late Tuesday said he won't make any decisions until Wednesday.

There are some, though, who are calling for Gore to concede.

Democratic National Committee chairman Ed Rendell called on Gore to step down soon after the decision was made public.

The aide said Gore's team planned to issue a written statement soon.

Representing the Bush camp, James Baker held a brief news conference Tuesday night.

He said Bush was "gratified" with the decision and wants to express appreciation for the fine work of his legal team and supporters in Florida.

Baker ended his statement saying it has been a long and difficult process for everyone involved.

The court's unsigned opinion said seven of the nine justices agreed there were constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida court.

The judges disagreed on the way to work out the problems.

"It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work," the court said.

In their decision, most of the judges said that because Florida's lawmakers intended to choose their electors by Dec. 12, an order requiring a new recount "could not be part of an appropriate" remedy.

Also on Tuesday, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature passed legislation to appoint its own slate of 25 electors loyal to George W. Bush. That will ensure a victory for the Republican presidential candidate.

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court allowed Gore's request to recount 40,000 ballots. One day later, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the new tallies in order to hear Bush's appeal of the Florida decision.

Gore is pushing for recounts because he believes they would uncover new votes for him that would wipe out Bush's lead in the state. Whichever man wins in Florida wins the presidency.

The unsettled U.S. election was originally held on Nov. 7.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that 25,000 absentee ballots challenged in two Florida counties should count.

On a pair of 6-0 opinions, the justices upheld the rulings of two state judges, both of whom had said the ballots should count even though local election officials permitted Republicans to add information to their absentee ballot applications.

Voiding the ballots would have wiped out Bush's lead in Florida.