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Release: Dec. 13, 2000

UI law professor comments on U.S. Supreme Court ruling

IOWA CITY -- University of Iowa constitutional law professor Todd Pettys (Pet-TIS) said that last night's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the presidential ballot recount case was based largely on justices' concerns that a recount would create an equal protection problem under the U.S. Constitution.

Pettys says the high court also stated that there was not enough time to allow a manual recount before Florida's Dec. 18 Electoral College meets to pick the next president.

He says that with the exception of Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court's remaining seven members concluded that the absence of a single, coherent standard for determining the intent of Florida's voters in a manual recount created an equal protection problem.

"The basic principle underlying the Constitution's equal protection guarantee is that the government should not treat one person more favorably than it treats another, unless there is some principled basis for distinguishing between the two," Pettys said.

"Here, the court's concern was that the ballots were being examined under different criteria -- a voter who submitted a dimpled ballot in one county might have her vote counted, for example, while a voter who submitted a dimpled ballot in another county might have his vote thrown out. Even though those two voters' ballots may have been identical, then, only one voter's vote would be counted. The court held that this violated the equal protection guarantee," Pettys said.

Pettys says Justices Souter and Breyer, two members of the seven-member majority, concluded that the case should be remanded, to give Florida courts a chance to come up with a single standard for determining the intent of the voter in all counties. The other members of the majority, however, decided that there simply was not enough time for Florida officials to settle upon a standard, count all of the disputed ballots using that standard, and then submit any disputes regarding the application of that standard to the courts for review.

EDITORS: Pettys may be available for interviews this afternoon. For more information, contact Melvin Shaw at University News Services, (319) 384-0010.