Image: Former Sen. Norm Coleman and attorney Joe Friedberg
Jim Mone  /  AP
Former Sen. Norm Coleman, left, listens as his attorney, Joe Friedberg, addresses the media in St. Paul, Minn., after the Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the disputed U.S. Senate race between Republican Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
updated 6/1/2009 2:36:08 PM ET 2009-06-01T18:36:08

In an hour of rapid-fire questions over Minnesota's disputed Senate election, the state's highest court focused on whether vote-counting flaws alleged by Republican Norm Coleman were severe enough to deny Democrat Al Franken the win.

Barely a minute into oral arguments, justices challenged Coleman's attorneys on the adequacy of evidence they presented in an election trial and the legality of their suggested remedy: that more ballots be counted even if some absentee voters didn't fully comply with the law.

"It's possible there are statutory violations which do not rise to the level of constitutional violation," Justice Alan Page said, alluding to a threshold appeals courts often turn to before reversing a lower-court decision.

The state Supreme Court justices can confirm Franken as the victor or reopen the count as Coleman wants.

Franken hopes the court orders that he immediately receive the election certificate required to take office. Franken is the potential 60th vote for Democrats in the Senate, though two of those are independents.

The court's involvement is the latest but maybe not the final stop. If Coleman loses, he could file a new case in federal court or petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which isn't certain to take the case. If Franken doesn't like the result, he could ask the Senate itself to weigh in.

Video: Al Franken wins? Interrupted by justices frequently, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg argued that counties were inconsistent in the way they decided whether absentee ballots were filled out properly and should be counted. He said people who made substantial efforts to comply with the law should have their votes counted.

"Twelve thousand citizens who made good-faith efforts to vote were disenfranchised, with a variety of reasons," Friedberg said.

Franken attorney Marc Elias argued that Coleman's team had failed to show specific voters were disenfranchised.

"This isn't evidence, this is an argument," Elias said.

Coleman, whose term in the Senate expired in January, trailed Franken by 312 votes after a recount and his lawsuit challenging the results of that recount.

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It wasn't clear how quickly the court would rule, and the issue of the election certificate didn't come up during oral arguments.

Coleman and his wife, Laurie, were in the Supreme Court chambers for the arguments. Afterward, he was asked if he'd pursue other legal options if he loses.

"Let's see what this court does," Coleman said. "At this point my firm hope and fervent hope is to enfranchise over 4,000 more Minnesotans."

Franken did not attend.

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