Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Worst Mistake in Political History

Here are the official documents from the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Bush vs. Gore, otherwise known as Decision 2000.

This is a doozy, but it is good for your records, it is straight from the Library of Congress.

Supreme Court on Florida Election Vote Recount

A historic document from On writ of certiorari to the Florida Supreme Court

Page 999


By a 5-4 vote divided along conservative-liberal lines, the Supreme Court on December 12, 2000, put an end to the five-week dispute over the presidential election results in Florida and effectively elected Republican George W. Bush as the nation's forty-third president. The decision stopped the manual count of several thousand contested ballots that had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, leaving Bush the certified winner by 537 votes of the state's twenty-five electoral votes, enough to give him the presidency. Although the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Florida court for further consideration, the decision left Vice President Al Gore's attorneys little maneuvering room to pursue his challenge, and the Democratic nominee conceded the election to Bush on December 13. It was a painful decision for Gore, who had won the nationwide popular vote by approximately 577,000 votes. (Bush, Gore speeches, p. 1025)

The Court's decision capped the most extraordinary period in U.S. presidential politics in more than a century. The November 7 election left Gore with 267 electoral votes—just 3 short of the 270 needed under the Constitution for election as president. Bush had 246 electoral votes coming out of the election. In doubt were Florida's 25 electoral votes, which would provide the margin of victory. There Bush had a slim advantage, and for five weeks lawyers and partisans for the two sides clashed in the courts, at local elections headquarters, and even in the streets. Bush sought to preserve his slim lead by erecting legal roadblocks to the recounting of thousands of ballots that were in dispute. Needing every vote he could get, Gore demanded that all disputed votes be counted.

Throughout the ordeal, the nation and the world watched as election workers peered at ballots looking for signs of voter intent, and as judges struggled with Florida's sometimes conflicting laws to determine the state legislature's intent. It was the closest the United States had come to a constitutional crisis over a presidential election since 1876, when an election dispute dragged on for months and was finally resolved by a contentious vote in the House of Representatives.

Page 1000

In the end Bush won because he had two important allies working in tandem: the calendar and the Supreme Court. Under a federal law enacted in 1887, a state's electors had to be selected by December 12 if they were to be free from challenge in the U.S. Congress. Although nothing in the law prevented electors from being selected after December 12—in 1960 Hawaii did not select its electors until January 4—the Bush team argued that the Florida legislature had intended December 12 to be the deadline for selecting electors. Bush's attorneys then used every legal maneuver they could muster to prevent or delay voter recounts until this deadline had passed and it was too late to overturn the Bush lead. As the December 12 date approached, the final arbiter of whether additional votes would be counted was the Supreme Court, which for the first time in U.S. history found itself in the position of being able to determine who would become president. On the key decision in the case of Bush v. Gore, the Court's five most conservative justices sided with Bush, the conservative candidate, and the four most liberal justices sided with Gore, the liberal candidate.

The coincidence of this split did not go unremarked. Editorial writers and legal experts said that the Court should have refused to review the dispute and left it for Congress to resolve. By injecting the Supreme Court into a political issue, the Court had weakened its own legitimacy as well as Bush's claim to the White House, those critics said. John Paul Stevens, one of the dissenting justices, said the Court's ruling “can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land.” Another dissenter, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, referred to the Court action as “this self-inflicted wound.” Nor did it escape public notice that the Republican nominee who had campaigned on states' rights had turned to the federal judiciary to overrule the Florida state courts or that his promises of inclusion did not extend to disputed ballots cast primarily by blacks, the urban poor, and the elderly.

Although most Americans accepted the Court's decision and Gore's concession calmly, it remained to be seen to what extent the controversy had damaged the public's trust in its governing institutions and in the electoral process. Some observers predicted that the incident would discourage voter turnout in the future, especially among African-Americans and other minorities who were already skeptical about the voting process. Several news organizations immediately announced plans to perform their own recounts of the Florida ballots, while politicians and election officials across the country promised to review election laws and procedures to prevent similar situations in the future.

On December 14 Florida governor Jeb Bush announced that he was creating a special task force to investigate the integrity of Florida's election process. He also said he would welcome an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights into allegations into voting irregularities, including incidents of intimidation directed at black voters. Bush, the younger brother of the president-elect, and Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris, an acknowledged Bush supporter, had been accused by Gore partisans of using their offices to help thwart the recount.

Link to Full Primary Source

Bush v. Gore

-Mr. Joseph

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