Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is hedging on whether he’ll sign Democrat Al Franken’s election certificate, should GOP Sen. Norm Coleman lose his expected election appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“I don’t know whether [a certificate] would be required to be issued,” Pawlenty told Minnesota Public Radio on Monday. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t issue the certificate. I’m just saying we should have all of the facts in front of us before we precommit to something like that.”
That prompted Franken attorney Marc Elias to remark, “With all due respect to Gov. Pawlenty, it’s not his job or his role to try to second-guess … the state Supreme Court.”
On Monday evening, the three-judge panel hearing Coleman’s election contest ruled that Franken had won the election. During the election lawsuit, Franken’s lead over Coleman actually increased from 225 to 312 votes.
Coleman’s lawyers have promised to appeal that verdict to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and have 10 days to do so.
As the political battle heats up over when Minnesota’s next senator should be seated, Pawlenty is bracing to address a politically explosive issue: At what point is he required to sign the certificate of election that would result in Franken becoming the 59th Democratic vote in Congress?
Assuming Minnesota’s Supreme Court sides with the election panel and against Coleman, the former GOP senator could continue his appeals in federal court and conceivably even to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Pawlenty would come under serious pressure, both in Minnesota and nationally, to ratify Franken’s victory.
According to many legal experts, Minnesota law calls for Pawlenty to certify a winner as soon as the Minnesota Supreme Court completes all state-level appeals by handing down a ruling. And opinions issued by the state Supreme Court appear to endorse that view.
Some lawyers, however, say all federal appeals must be resolved as well – a process that could easily take months. To do otherwise, they say, risks seating a senator whose election is later overturned by a higher court.
The stakes over when Minnesota receives its second senator are high. Democratic leaders say they need at least one more Senate vote to pass key elements of President Obama’s agenda, including the pro-labor, card check legislation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said must wait until the political balance shifts even further in Democrats’ favor.
Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg, an expert on election appeals, says it is “an open question” whether a certificate could be issued prior to all federal appeals being heard.
Sarah Cherry, an independent legal expert with Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, recently told Newsmax: “Some argue that the election certificate cannot be issued until all appeals -- state and federal both -- are completed. But I and many others think it is likely the law provides for the certificate to be issued when the state court proceedings are completed.”
If Cherry is right, a winner should be certified as soon as the Supreme Court makes a ruling. But Cherry concedes that Pawlenty’s legal interpretation could be different.
Late Monday, Sen. Harry Reid pledged that Democrats would not to seat Franken until the state’s Supreme Court issues its verdict.
“Norm Coleman is entitled to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Reid stated. “If he does so, we look forward to a prompt decision from that court so that Gov. Pawlenty can issue an election certificate and we can finally bring an end to an episode that has left the people of Minnesota without full representation for too long, and has cost taxpayers too much money.”
Left unaddressed by Reid’s statement: What he will do if Pawlenty refuses to sign off on Franken’s election certificate even after the state Supreme Court renders its verdict.
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