The Supreme Court in the U.S. state of New Jersey decided that Democrats can replace Senator Robert Torricelli on next month's election ballot just days after the incumbent senator gave up his bid for re-election. The election could give control of the Senate to Republicans. After hours of arguments the panel of seven justices, four Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, ruled in favor of Democrats in an election that involves one Senate seat but has far-reaching implications for U.S. politics.
The Democrats, who are trying to hold on to their single-vote majority in the U.S. Senate, were trying to allow former senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who retired in the year 2000 after serving three terms, to be named on the ballot instead of Senator Robert Toricelli.
Although Democrats could have encouraged voters to write-in Mr. Lautenberg's name without reprinting ballots the court said it is in the public interest to quote "preserve the two-party system and submit a ballot that has the names of candidates of both major parties."
Mr. Torricelli dropped out of the race on Monday amid allegations that he received illegal campaign donations.
Republicans argue the ballot can not be changed so close to the election.
Frank Askin, a law professor at New Jersey's Rutgers University says New Jersey law is clear: the deadline for replacing a name on the ballot is within 51 days of the election and Mr. Torricelli dropped out 36 days before voters go to the polls.
However, Professor Askin points out that that legislation is often viewed as antiquated since it stems from a time when it was more technologically difficult to print ballots. "The reasons obviously originally were to get an opportunity to get ballots ready," he said. "It takes a while to print ballots, to get ballots out, absentee ballots, to get military ballots and that kind of stuff. They need a little lead time." The New Jersey court ruled that the Democratic party must pay the cost of reprinting ballots, which is estimated at close to $1 million.
Republicans say they will appeal the ruling, leading to the possibility that the case will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which became involved in deciding the presidential race two years ago.
"Every one is a little bit unique," said Professor Askin. "Bush v. Gore was certainly unique. Who know after that. Who can predict how the courts will rule on these manners."
Republican candidate Douglas Forrester has accused Democrats of putting up a legal fight in an effort to replace a candidate because he was losing.