Minn. Court Rules Franken as Winner
Minnesota's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Al Franken should be seated in the U.S. Senate, potentially giving the Democratic Party a crucial 60th vote nearly nine months after voters went to the polls in November.
The decision follows a recount and court battle that began soon after the election, when Republican incumbent Norm Coleman held a slight lead. With each court decision, Franken gained more votes and now has a 312-vote lead out of nearly 3 million cast.
Coleman, who was first elected in 2002, has not indicated whether he will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or file a new lawsuit in a lower federal court.
"We affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled to receive the certificate of election as United States senator from the state of Minnesota," the court wrote.
If Franken is seated it would be the first time since 1978 that a party could reliably count on 60 votes. The 60-vote threshold, required to stop filibusters on controversial legislation, comes as the Senate debates massive changes to the nation's health care system and energy policy.
To be seated, Franken will need an election certificate signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who many consider a contender for the Republican presidential primary in 2012. Pawlenty has said he would sign the certificate if the court directs him to do so.
"I'm prepared to sign it as soon as they give the green light," Pawlenty said on CNN's State of the Union this past weekend.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter gave the Democrats a 59th vote when he defected from the Republican Party in April because he was facing a tough primary challenge to retain his seat next year.
The 60-vote number includes two independent senators who typically side with Democrats.
Sixty votes are needed to overturn filibusters and proceed to a final vote - a critically important tool to advance controversial legislation. The impact could be limited by two Democrats who are ill -Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts- and have been largely absent during roll call votes. Byrd was released from a hospital Tuesday.
Coleman was initially ahead by 206 votes on Nov. 4. State law provides for an automatic recount whenever an election margin falls within 0.5 percent. The recount, which took nearly seven weeks, put Franken up by 225 votes.
Coleman challenged the results in state court in January and argued that thousands of absentee ballots had been improperly rejected by county election officials. The three-judge panel included 351 of those ballots in a new count on April 7, and that increased Franken's lead to 312.