``I don't know whether Governor Bush or I will prevail,'' Gore said after the decision. ``We do know that our democracy is the winner tonight.''
Exuding confidence, Gore urged Bush to tone down divisive rhetoric and meet with him for the good of the nation.
``Our country is more important than any victory,'' Gore told reporters in Washington.
But Bush, who did not comment personally, sent his spokesman, James A. Baker III, before the cameras to declare a continuing legal war, this time aimed at Florida's highest court.
``It is simply not fair ... to change the rules either in the middle of the game or after the game is played,'' said Baker. ``The Supreme Court has pretty well rewritten the Florida electoral code.''
He accused the justices, all Democratic appointees, of usurping the role of the executive branch and raised the specter of the Florida legislature stepping in ``to affirm the original rules.''
Baker said Bush would be examining further legal options.
Gore attorney David Boies predicted that any appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Bush lawyers would fail because, ``It's a matter of Florida law. ... There is no basis to appeal this to the United States Supreme Court.''
The drama of the court's historic ruling was heightened by the fact that it came after dark, delivered by justices who worked overtime to provide a quick resolution to the case following 2 1/2 hours of oral arguments by lawyers on Monday. And it arrived exactly two weeks to the day after the nation's voters went to the polls to elected a new president.
A divided electorate split its votes so closely that the election finally came down to one state, Florida, which holds 25 electoral votes, enough to award the presidential prize to one candidate or the other.
But Florida's own results were nearly evenly divided, and on the crucial date for certification, Bush led by about 1,000 votes with hand recounts under way. The Gore camp argued for a certification delay to await final recounts.
Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who campaigned for Bush, refused. In its ruling, the Supreme Court rejected Harris' insistence that a deadline fixed in state law prevented her from accepting amended returns after Nov. 14 without better reasons than those offered by the counties seeking a delay.
In unusually harsh language, the court said it could not allow Harris ``to summarily disenfranhcise innocent electors in an effort to punish dilatory (election) board members. ... The constitution eschews punishment by proxy.''
Above all, the decision defended the right of every voter to have their voice heard.
``We consistently have adhered to the principle that the will of the people is the paramount consideration.''
The court's decision said Harris must accept amended vote totals until Sunday at 5 p.m - if her office is open - or else Monday at 9 a.m.
Its 43-page opinion touched on but did not resolve some thorny issues, including the counting of ``dimpled'' ballots and the fate of more than 1,000 overseas ballots thrown out last week.
The justices cited a 1990 Illinois court decision as ``particularly apt in this case.'' That decision, Pullen v. Milligan, found that votes could not be eliminated simply because a ballot was imperfectly punched.
``Whatever the reason, where the intention of the voter can be fairly and satisfactorily ascertained, that intention should be given effect,'' the Illinois court said in a passage quoted by the Florida court.