- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

Democrats yesterday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to disregard Republican pleas to block replacing New Jersey Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on next month's ballot, saying it would deny voters a choice.

Republicans have asked the high court to stay the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling that will allow Democrats to put former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg on the ballot in place of Mr. Torricelli, who withdrew from the race Monday.

The race's Republican challenger, Doug Forrester, on Thursday requested an emergency Supreme Court hearing about the decision to allow the Democrats to reprint ballots.

"There isn't any merit to Mr. Forrester's claim here," said state Democrats' lawyer Bob Bauer, after Democrats filed their response in the high court yesterday.

"All voters will be given a ballot and an opportunity to cast that ballot, without any possibility of disenfranchisement or dilution," the Democrats' court filing argued.

Republicans have argued the election is already under way because about 1,600 absentee ballots have been mailed out, and that those voters, primarily overseas military voters, will be disenfranchised by the change.

Mr. Torricelli, who was admonished by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics in July for ethical missteps, dropped out of the Senate race Monday after polls showed him lagging behind Mr. Forrester. Mr. Forrester had focused on Mr. Torricelli's ethical problems.

Republicans also argued the New Jersey decision violates the Constitution's requirement that state legislatures not courts determine the "times, places and manner" of holding congressional elections. New Jersey state law says a statewide candidate can drop out 51 days or more before the election. Mr. Torricelli dropped out with 36 days left.

But the Democrats' brief argued that the Supreme Court's review of state court decisions "has long began with the proposition that the Court 'has no authority' to review a state supreme court's interpretation of state law."

There was no indication late yesterday of whether the high court would intervene in the case.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Thursday he does not think the high court will "deny voters a choice" by siding with Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday that the New Jersey Supreme Court decision was "not a good precedent" to set for other races.

"I suspect there are a couple of other Democrat Senate candidates they'd like to pull right now," Mr. Lott said. "But, you know, I really don't think that's fair play. And I don't think the American people like that."

Meanwhile, Mr. Lautenberg led Mr. Forrester by 11 points, according to a poll released yesterday by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The poll of 400 likely voters, showed Mr. Lautenberg with 44 percent and Mr. Forrester with 33 percent. An independent poll taken right before Mr. Torricelli dropped out showed him trailing Mr. Forrester by 13 points.

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