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World War III over a Senate seat?

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Will Minnesota ever get its second senator? Maybe not. Politico reports today that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is threatening "World War III" if Democrats try to seat Al Franken before Norm Coleman can take a challenge to federal court — which Cornyn admits could take years:

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.

A three-judge panel is expected to rule any day now on legal challenges to the November election

Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg has predicted that Franken will be on top after the court rules, arguing that an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court could swing the election back in Coleman’s favor.

But what if that doesn’t happen?

Nobody really knows.

As Roland Burris will recall, you can’t take a seat in the Senate without an election certificate from your state. And it’s not clear whether the candidate who’s ahead after the Minnesota Supreme Court rules could get an election certificate from Minnesota if his opponent is seeking review from the United States Supreme Court or challenging the results in a new lawsuit in federal court.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat in charge of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, says that Minnesota gets its second senator as soon as the state case ends.

“Whatever the state Supreme Court decides, as I understand it, the law requires it to be certified,” Schumer says.

But Cornyn believes that Minnesota can’t certify Franken the winner if Coleman seeks review from the U.S. Supreme Court or files a new federal case. And Ben Ginsberg, a Coleman attorney and a central player on the Republican side in the 2000 Florida recount, says it’s “an open question” whether a federal court challenge puts a pause on the certification process.

Minnesota has been down a senator since the beginning of the year, and Democrats — who expect Franken to prevail eventually — view themselves as down a vote they’re entitled to have. Without Franken in the Senate, the Democrats hold a 58-41 vote advantage over the GOP; getting to 59-41 sooner rather than later would make it easier to move President Barack Obama’s agenda through Congress.

Franken currently leads in the counting by 225 votes. In a radio interview this month, Friedberg — asked if he was “confident” that Coleman would lose before the three-judge panel — said: “I think that’s probably correct that Franken will still be ahead and probably by a little bit more. But our whole argument was a constitutional argument, and it’s an argument suitable for the Minnesota Supreme Court, not for the trial court. So we’ll see whether we were right or not.”

The Coleman campaign subsequently released a statement saying it was “confident” that Coleman would win before the three-judge panel.

It could takes months — or longer — to resolve a petition for review from the U.S. Supreme Court and even longer if the loser before the Minnesota Supreme Court files a new case in a U.S. District Court.

What happens in the meantime could come down to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who was on John McCain’s vice president shortlist and is contemplating a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

So far, Pawlenty isn’t saying what he’ll do once the court rules.

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