Stakes Rise in Coleman-Franken Showdown

Wednesday, 29 Apr 2009 01:45 PM

By David A. Patten

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The Franken-Coleman race in Minnesota stands as the last remaining barrier to Democrats seizing a 60-vote majority in the Senate, making the stakes in former Sen. Norm Coleman’s bitter election contest against Democrat Al Franken higher than ever.

Coleman’s legal team spent Tuesday polishing the written arguments the Republican will present Wednesday to the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a bid to persuade justices to toss out election results that have put Franken on the verge of being certified Minnesota’s second senator.

"We will keep on fighting to enfranchise these voters and to ensure that every legally cast ballot is opened and counted," Coleman spokesman Tom Erickson tells Newsmax.

Wednesday is the deadline for Coleman to file the initial brief in his appeal of the recent ruling that Franken won the election by 312 votes. Coleman has already filed notification that he intends to appeal that verdict made by a three-judge panel earlier this month.

The Coleman filing is expected to lay out the grounds for his appeal of that verdict.

Minnesota GOP officials have expressed confidence that the state’s highest court will be able to give Coleman a fair hearing, despite the fact that two of its seven justices -- Chief Justice Eric Magnuson nor Justice G. Barry Anderson -- have already reportedly removed themselves from hearing the case because they were involved in earlier phases of the recount.

Of the five remaining judges, three others could arguably have apparent conflicts as well.

Justice Lorie Gildea contributed $1,000 to Coleman’s 1998 race for governor. Another justice, Christopher Dietzen, contributed to Coleman’s Senate campaign in 2001 and 2004. A third justice, Helen Meyer, has a record of frequent contributions to Democratic candidates. In fact, in 2001 she contributed $1,000 to Coleman’s opponent, Paul Wellstone.

Justices Alan C. Page and Paul H. Anderson are the other two members of the court.

Despite the political ties of some justices, the leaders of the state’s Republican Party tell Newsmax they are confident the remaining five justices will give the case a fair hearing.

“These justices are well-respected professionals and we believe that they will be able to come to a conclusion that enfranchises the thousands of Minnesotans whose votes have not yet been counted,” Minnesota GOP spokesman Gina Countryman tells Newsmax.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has released a schedule for the case, which states oral arguments won’t begin until June 1. That was viewed as a setback for Franken’s team, which asked the court to expedite its schedule.

Even if Franken wins in the state’s highest court, Coleman may opt to continue his appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court may or may not elect to hear that appeal, if indeed one is filed.

Whether state officials, including GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, would certify a winner before the Supreme Court has an opportunity to hear the appeal remains undetermined.

Franken, meanwhile, is proceeding with staff appointments as if he were already anointed to be Minnesota’s newest senator. On Tuesday, he announced that Capitol Hill veteran Drew Littman will serve as his chief of staff.

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