Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for Al Franken, 5-0; Coleman Concedes

Published on
by
the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for Al Franken, 5-0; Coleman Concedes

Republican Norm Coleman ended his bruising eight-month court fight over Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat this afternoon, conceding to Democrat Al Franken after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Franken's favor.

by
Pat Doyle

Republican Norm Coleman ended his bruising eight-month court fight over Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat this afternoon, conceding to Democrat Al Franken after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Franken's favor.

The justices ruled today that Franken won the U.S. Senate election and said he is entitled to an election certificate that would lead to him being seated in the Senate.

"Affirmed," wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Coleman's claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory.

Two hours after the decision was released, Coleman said he would "abide by the results."

"Furtrher litigation damages the unity of our state," he said during a news conference held at his St. Paul home. "The future today is that we have a new United States senator."

Coleman said he had called Franken to "congratulate him for his victory. I told him it's the best job he will ever have."

He added, "sure I wanted to win, both for myself and so many wonderful supporters." He said he doesn't know yet what he'll do in the future.

In its unanimous, 32-page decision, the justices wrote: "Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled [under Minnesota law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota."

In upholding a lower court ruling in April, the justices said Coleman had "not shown that the trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion."

But the court did not grant Franken's bid to make its ruling effective immediately, leaving a window for an appeal by Coleman before Gov. Tim Pawlenty is required to issue an election certificate.

The ruling also did not directly address Pawlenty's role. The court's ruling stopped short of explicitly ordering the governor to sign the document, saying only that Franken was "entitled" to it.

In declining Franken's request to make the ruling effective immediately, the court gave Coleman 10 days to ask for a rehearing, something it rarely grants. The ruling also sidesteps Franken's request that the court direct Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to sign a certificate "promptly."

The delay for a rehearing could give Coleman and better chance to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the decision and to review the case, but it was not immediately clear if he would do so.

"The bottom line is that the Court says that Franken is entitled to an election certificate, but there is no direct order to the state's governor to sign one," said Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen, who has followed the case closely. "We'll see what the governor does, if Coleman does not concede, as he well may at this point."

In recent weeks, Pawlenty has talked about how he would not hold up an election certificate if ordered by the court to issue one.

"I'm going to do whatever the court says," Pawlenty said at a news conference a couple of weeks ago. "When the court decides that issue, as soon as I'm directed or required to sign that certificate, I will. I am not going to hold it up or delay it in any fashion."

Guy-Urel Charles, a Duke University law professor who has also tracked the case, said the court appeared to be giving deference to separation of powers in state government by not ordering Pawlenty to issue a certificate within a specific time period.

"The court isn't ordering the governor to do anything, but I think if the governor refuses, the court order him to do it," Charles said.

In upholding a lower court ruling in April, the justices said Coleman had "not shown that the trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion."

The justices also said that neither the trial court nor local elections officials violated constitutional rights to equal protection, a cornerstone of Coleman's case and any possible federal appeal.

Coleman neither claims nor produced any evidence that the differing treatment of absentee ballots among jurisdictions during the election was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination against individuals or classes.

"Coleman neither claims nor produced any evidence that the differing treatment of absentee ballots among jurisdictions during the election was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination against individuals or classes," the court said.

It added that the trial court -- a three-judge panel -- didn't discriminate against individuals or classes when it excluded certain types of absentee ballots from being counted.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that Pawlenty should respect the votes of his constituents and his state's highest court.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for said the earliest Franken would be seated is next week because the Senate is out of session for the July 4 holiday.

A triumphant DFL quickly issued a news release that read, in part, "Minnesotans have shown great patience since Election Night ... We trust that Senator-elect Franken will be seated without delay."

And Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine released a statement saying, "Senator-Elect Franken must be seated as soon as possible. The people of Minnesota rightfully elected Al Franken to serve in the Senate and there is far too much work to be done for the state and the nation to drag this process on any longer."

The state Republican Party issued a statement in which it said "today's ruling wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted. Alongside Senator Coleman, the Republican Party of Minnesota has fought to make sure every vote counts and all voters are treated fairly and uniformly."

Staff writer Bob von Sternberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Share This Article

More in: