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Fla. Legislature Could Pick Slate of Electors

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By Jo Becker and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 18, 2000; Page A12

TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 17–Republicans in charge of the Florida legislature are preparing a legal strategy to appoint the state's 25 electors themselves if the Florida Supreme Court fails to rule on the matter promptly.

"We're going to potentially ignore the state Supreme Court," Tom Feeney, a Republican lawyer who will take over as House speaker on Tuesday, said in an interview today. "It is the state legislature that determines the method of selecting electors. . . . The question is whether or not the Supreme Court of Florida has any role whatsoever. If they try to interfere with our responsibilities, then we still have to fulfill them."

Federal law leaves the question of determining the methods for selecting members of the electoral college up to individual states. It provides that if the election fails to produce a slate of electors, "the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct."

Members of the electoral college are scheduled to meet on Dec. 18 to cast their votes for president.

But if the courts do not resolve the matter by Dec. 12, the law could allow the Florida legislature to step in and put new procedures in place, including appointing the electors themselves. Republicans control both houses of the legislature.

"Our lawyers tell me . . . that the legislature has a direct authority and power granted to it under the U.S. Constitution that no state court could interfere with, negate or abrogate," Feeney said.

"The bottom line is if we had to act because of the failure of this election to be certified on Saturday or the near future . . . we think we have constitutional obligation and we'd have to get good legal advice about what our options are."

Feeney said he had not discussed the matter with the campaign of Republican candidate George W. Bush or the office of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

He issued a statement later today after the Florida Supreme Court blocked Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris from certifying the final results of the election on Saturday, as she had planned. He called the court's decision "premature" and "regrettable," and pointed to the federal law empowering state legislatures to provide the rules for picking electors.

"It is my intention to monitor the discord between the judicial and executive branches, and the Florida legislature will play a role should it become necessary," the statement said.

Ronald G. Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Democratic Party, said the question of electors is "something we'll be looking at." But he believes the Supreme Court will resolve the question and thinks it "highly unlikely" that the Florida election will remain unresolved in mid-December.

Another Florida lawyer, Bill L. Bryant Jr., believes that if the case does drag on, the legislature could say, "We're going to pick 25 people, and they're going to Washington and vote for whomever."

"In normal times, that would be a very far-out idea. It would be unthinkable," said Bryant, who represents the chairman of the Florida canvassing board. "To look at the context, it's not so far out. It's an option."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company


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