[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.colemanfranken1.gi.jpg caption="Lawyers for both Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken were grilled by the Minnesota state supreme court Monday."](CNN) - Lawyers for both Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken were grilled by the Minnesota state supreme court Monday, in a crucial hearing in the nearly seven month long post-election Senate seat battle between the candidates.
The justices on the state's highest court heard arguments on whether problems counting absentee ballots justify the reversal of a lower state court ruling that declared Franken, the former comedian and progressive radio talk show host, the winner by 312 votes over Coleman, the freshman senator whose term expired at the beginning of the year.
The court focused on claims by the Coleman camp that flaws in the counting over votes are serious enough to prevent Franken from winning the Senate seat. Coleman's asking for some 4,000 rejected absentee ballots to be counted.
The court has two options. They can confirm the lower court ruling that declared Franken the winner, or they can order more ballots to be counted, as Coleman argues. A ruling in favor of Coleman won't put him back in the Senate seat he used to hold, but it would extend his battle.
There's no indication when the justices will rule, but their decision may not bring an end to one of the nation's longest-running election disputes in decades. Even if the court rules against him, Coleman could take his case to the federal courts, or even petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Franken victory could persuade the state's governor, a Republican, and the state's secretary of state, a Democrat, to sign a certificate of election, which would allow Franken to take office.
Coleman was ahead after election day on November 4, but he led Franken by just over 200 votes out of the nearly three million cast. That triggered an automatic recount. When that process was completed at the beginning of the year, it indicated that Franken led by a similar number of votes. Then the battle moved to court.
The battle has national implications. If seated, Franken would become the Democrat's 60th vote in the chamber, giving the party a filibuster-proof majority - and denying Republicans the ability to single-handedly block legislation or nomination votes.
Ben Ginsberg, lead counsel for former Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign, was optimistic about the hearing, saying, "It was a very well informed, interested court who asked probing questions." Ginsberg added that, "we feel very good about the arguments."
"We're confident in our case, and in the arguments made by Marc Elias (Franken's attorney) this morning. Now we're just looking forward to the court's decision," said Jess McIntosh, Franken's press secretary.
Coleman and his wife were in court Monday. Franken did not attend.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Coleman wouldn't talk about his legal options if the court rules against him.