The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not set a new date for the election, postponing the immediate implementation of its decision by a week to allow time for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision delighted embattled Gov. Gray Davis, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.
"Have we seen a few surprises in this election? The guy who put this on the ballot, (Darrell) Issa, doesn't run. Bill Simon doesn't run. (Peter) Ueberroth doesn't run," said Davis.
The decision stunned and outraged Davis' challengers, Bowen reports.
"Its authoritarian," said Republican state Sen. Ron McClintock. "It's un-American. It's French."
Asked if he thought the decision was politically motivated, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading Republican candidate, said, "I'm sure."
It was the ghost of Florida chads that stalled the California recall. The appeals court panel cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in the presidential election. While the high court ruled that George W. Bush won the election, the panel noted that it also ruled that, "using different standards for counting votes in different counties across Florida violated the equal protection clause."
The panel said the same goes for California, where six counties have yet to install required touch-screen voting systems. Using the old punch-card ballots could mean that 40,000 votes might not be counted; a margin of error that could be the margin of victory.
Proponents expect the decision to stand.
"It's clear that a court could not rule against us without effectively reversing Bush versus Gore. That's the principle of Bush versus Gore that all voters are to have an equal opportunity to have their votes counted," said Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that brought the suit to the appeals court.
CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says it may be "difficult for the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling because it seems to track what the justices decided in their famous Bush v. Gore ruling after the 2000 presidential election."
Recent polls indicate support for the recall is eroding slightly. The delay until the March primary may be just what Davis needs to save his job.
The March primary is expected to draw large numbers of Democratic voters, and the months until then would give Davis more time to address the state's problems and force Schwarzenegger into a longer campaign.
Schwarzenegger called on the secretary of state to appeal on behalf of Californians. Both he and Davis said they would continue their campaigns in the meantime.
"Historically, the courts have upheld the rights of voters, and I expect that the court will do so again in this case," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "The people have spoken, and their word should, and will, prevail."
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, a Democrat, wouldn't say when he would decide on a possible appeal. However, his office earlier indicated the state would likely appeal any postponement.
Ted Costa, head of the Sacramento-based Peoples' Advocate, one of the groups that put the recall on the ballot, said an appeal of Monday's ruling was certain. "Give us 24 hours," he said.
In the ruling Monday, the 9th Circuit judges agreed with the ACLU that the punch-card voting machines still used in six California counties are prone to error.
The counties — Los Angeles, in addition to Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Solano — are already under a separate court order to replace them by the March primary, but the machines wouldn't be replaced in time for an Oct. 7 special election.
"In sum, in assessing the public interest, the balance falls heavily in favor of postponing the election for a few months," the court said.
The 9th Circuit Court is the nation's largest and most liberal federal appeals court. It's the same appellate court that last summer ruled reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of the words "under God."
The decision came as the race's top names were enlisting big national stars in their campaigns.
Davis was in Southern California with President Clinton to dedicate the William Jefferson Clinton elementary school in the impoverished suburb of Compton, and the two had planned to later attend a fund raiser.
Schwarzenegger and his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver, were in Chicago on Monday morning taping the season premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Polls had showed the actor struggling to win over women in the recall race, and women are the show's primary audience.
Speaking before the court ruled Monday, Schwarzenegger told Winfrey he was excited about the campaign. He also talked about old magazine articles that had resurfaced in which he described a sexually salacious, party-hard lifestyle and said they reflected a 1970s strategy to pump up interest in body building, the sport that made him famous.
"We really were out there doing crazy things. We were trying to get the attention," he said. "At that time I didn't think I was going to run for governor."
Davis, meanwhile, made a second day of campaign stops with Mr. Clinton, following a joint appearance Sunday at a predominantly black church in Los Angeles.
Mr. Clinton had spoken passionately against the recall during the Sunday service, mixing Scripture with politics at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
He repeated his party's theme that the recall election is part of a right-wing power grab, and said removing Davis could scare future officeholders away from making difficult choices.
"This is way bigger than him," Mr. Clinton said. "It's you I'm worried about. It's California I worry about. I don't want you to become a laughing stock, or a carnival, or the beginning of a circus in America where we throw people out for making tough decisions."
"Don't do this. Don't do this," he said. The congregation erupted in applause.
Davis was also scheduled to campaign this week with other prominent Democratic figures, including former Vice President Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and several of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates.