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Posted by on Apr 13, 2009 in Politics | 8 comments

Court Says Franken Defeated Coleman In Minnesota Senate Race

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A Minnesota court has ruled that comedian-turned-politician Democrat Al Franken defeated Republican Norm Coleman in the hotly disputed squeeker Minnesota Senate race — a dispute that most think will drag on as Coleman takes it up the ladder for more appeals.

UPI reports:

A three-judge panel ruled Monday that Democrat Al Franken defeated Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race.

However, the legal fight may not be over since Coleman has indicated his intent to take the matter to the Minnesota Supreme Court and supporters have urged him go to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Judges Elizabeth Hayden of Stearns County, Kurt Marben of Pennington County and Denise Reilly of Hennepin County all agreed Coleman lost the seat he had held the previous six years, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday.

“Franken received the highest number of legally cast ballots in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election for U.S. senator for the state of Minnesota and is entitled to receive the election certificate,” the judges wrote.

(Be sure to read this earlier TMV analysis on why Coleman is perhaps the most powerful Republican ever…)

USA Today reports that Coleman has already vowed to appeal. There are some analysts and published reports that say the national Republican party intends to keep this case going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, since the longer the case drags on the longer Democrats will be minus a vital swing vote in a sharply divided Senate.

The Minnesota Star-Tribune
provides these additional details:

In rejecting Coleman’s arguments, the panel said the Republican essentially asked it to ignore Minnesota election requirements and adopt a more lenient standard allowing illegal absentee ballots to be counted.

The panel also rejected Coleman’s comparison of Senate election problems to those in the 2000 presidential race in Florida.

Unlike Florida, Minnesota has statewide standards for absentee voting that are “uniform and explicit and apply in every county and city,” the panel wrote.

Meanwhile, the RNC has made it clear that it feels it has a big stake in the outcome of this hotly disputed race:

The Republican National Committee has transferred $250,000 to the Minnesota GOP to help pay legal fees in Norm Coleman’s ongoing recount battle against Al Franken for the Minnesota Senate seat.

A spokesman for the RNC, Alex Conant, said the committee had made Coleman’s legal battle “a priority because we think he has a case and because we think he deserves to return to the Senate.” The money was transferred last month.

“We certainly appreciate the RNC’s commitment to Minnesota as we are continuing full speed ahead,” said Minnesota Republican Party spokeswoman Gina Countryman.

While the RNC cannot legally earmark funds for specific purposes, RNC sources said the deposit was made under the presumption that it would benefit Coleman’s campaign.

While no one knows if it will go all the way to the Supreme Court, it’s clear that there is at least an unstated assumption that if it gets there some in the GOP think it’ll end with the same result as the disputed Presidential election between then-Vice President Al Gore and then-Texas Gov. George Bush. On the other hand, other analysts think it’s unlikely to end that way – that the court will try to avoid being in the same position again.

But all speculation at this point is just that.

UPDATE: Some more media takes on this ongoing political story.
*Earlier today MSNBC’s indispensible political site First Read had this item:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ponders the possibility of Norm Coleman taking his challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. “While some election law experts say it’s unlikely that Coleman, a Republican, could win in federal court, his party might have much to gain. A federal challenge could leave a Minnesota U.S. Senate seat vacant for another six months or more, depriving Democrats of a vote needed to pass some of President Obama’s agenda in the event of GOP filibusters.”

“The success of such a ‘scorched-earth’ strategy, as one political scientist dubs a federal appeal, depends heavily on the definition of state courts. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that a Senate race winner can’t be certified by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie ‘until the state courts have finally decided the election contest,’ as the trial was called. If a request were made for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, the question would be whether that ‘is part of that ‘state contest’ process so as to delay the issuance of the certificate,’ wrote Richard Hasen, an election law expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, in a recent blog for the American Constitution Society.”

The Daily Kos’ Kos:

The election certificate is a big wildcard. We know that the this decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Will the Supremes issue an injunction to block the issuance of the certificate of election? Will Pawlenty refuse to sign it? And what role will the federal courts play after Coleman inevitably runs out of appeal courts in Minnesota?

Power Line:

As expected, the court rejected Coleman’s equal protection arguments and found that there were no serious or systemic problems with the state’s conduct of the election.

So far, I’ve only seen the linked news account and not read the court’s decision, so it’s hard to say more at present. But the decision was inevitable given the rulings the court had already made.

Presumably Coleman will follow up, as promised, with an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

–There’s a detailed MUST READ POST at Election Law blog. Here is only one of the points:

4. What’s next?. Coleman has promised an appeal to the state Supreme Court, but I would not count on it. He might decide that his political future in Minnesota requires him to bow out gracefully at this point. The countervailing factor is the national interests of the Republican party, which want to keep a 59th Democrat out of the Senate for as long as possible. If Coleman appeals, it is possible that the Minnesota Supreme Court would reach the equal protection issues more directly, but even if it did, I’d be surprised to see a different result.

As for federal court, I’ve already examined the possibility of a second federal suit. What changes now is the greater likelihood that a federal court would be willing to adjudicate an equal protection claim, because the state court formally did not do so. (However, the state court said that the U.S. Senate has sole jurisdiction to consider such issues, and the first hurdle for Coleman in a federal court case would be to convince the federal court that it has jurisdiction over this issue, rather than leaving it to the Senate.) But even if the federal court reached the issue, for reasons I’ve already stated, it is likely to agree with the state court on the merits that Coleman cannot successfully make an equal protection argument. (I also believe, as I stated in my earlier post, that the filing of a federal suit would not delay the issuance of an election certificate to Franken.)

The Three-judge court opinion ends by extolling the virtues of the Minnesota electoral system. I think some praise needs to be heaped on the three judge court as well, for doing a fair job and rising above the partisan politics that has infected too many election law cases in recent years.

MAKE SURE you read it in its entirety..
-MNP Act:

The pressure in this contest is slowly shifting from Coleman (who is rapidly becoming just a cardboard cutout for the Senate Republicans) to Governor Pawlenty. The Governor has to decide when a certificate of election is to be issued.

Presidential aspirations could be affected by how this is handled.

TPM|DC:

To make a long story short, the court — who, by the way, are a rare tri-partisan selection of judges — rejects pretty much every single argument that Team Coleman put forward, and either accepts all of Team Franken’s arguments as is or in a somewhat modified form.

So where do we go from here?

Now remember, this is not the end. The Coleman campaign has already announced its intention to appeal, which means this thing will be going next to the Supreme Court, and a certificate of election can’t issue until at least after the state Supreme Court rules (and the Coleman camp has already signaled that they’ll work to stop one from issuing after the state Supremes rule).

Hotline On Call:

But … don’t expect the election to be decided just yet. Coleman immediately announced plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He has 10 days to do so. Coleman atty Ben Ginsberg: “The court’s ruling tonight is consistent with how they’ve ruled throughout this case but inconsistent with the Minnesota tradition of enfranchising voters. For these reasons, we must appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court so that no voter is left behind.”

Franken is expected to make a public statement later this evening.

Justin Gardner:

Frankly, I don’t see what other legal rabbits Coleman can pull out of his hat at this point, and even conservatives are starting to call for him to quit. He has little recourse now than to try and get another recount, but the last one put him more in the hole so I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

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.

-Preemptive Karma:

Remember, people, it ain’t over till the crybaby sings.

Digby:

In most countries, this would mean that Franken would receive that certificate and actually enter the Senate. But as long as Norm Coleman has a few wealthy benefactors willing to bankroll him, he can appeal. Again and again. Now, the Supreme Court might not have anyone available to hear that appeal, since two justices served on the state canvassing board, and one has donated money to Norm Coleman in the past. But of course, the Minnesota Supreme Court is just a stepping stone to a federal district court of appeals. Which is just a stepping stone to the US Supreme Court. Which is just a stepping stone to some other judicial body Coleman can find. Which is just a stepping stone to the 2014 rematch. Franken will only have been an incumbent for a few months by then.

Brilliant at Breakfast:

Norm Coleman’s refusal to go away even though he has clearly lost and makes new arguments that often contradict the old ones are the first real test since the Bush/Gore race of 2000 of the new Republican doctrine of elections: disenfranchise as many Democrats as you can, and if that isn’t enough, tie up close elections in the courts forever. Every day that Franken isn’t seated is one less day of the Democrats being that one vote closer to the filibuster-proof Democratic majority that Republicans fear more than anything else.

((