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2000 Elections

US Supreme Court intervention

Project: US Electoral Politics
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, attending a Washington, DC, party and watching the news networks predict Florida, and thusly the presidency, for Democrat Al Gore, says aloud, “This is terrible.” Her husband explains that she is considering retiring from the Court, but will only do so if George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, is in office to appoint her successor. [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Legal action, Key Events, US Supreme Court intervention

Shortly after the presidential vote that resulted in an as-yet-unresolved flurry of recounts and criticisms (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000 and 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000), two law clerks at the US Supreme Court laugh about the unlikely possibility that the election will end up being resolved in the Court. Could it happen that way? they wonder. And if so, would the Court split 5-4 along ideological lines, with the conservative majority giving Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) the presidency? The idea is preposterous, they decide, no matter what some of their friends and relatives are predicting. Even the most conservative of Court justices, they say, are pragmatic and mindful of the law. Moreover, they tell one another, the Court has always steered clear of sticky political conflicts. And the conservative justices are the most mindful of states’ rights and most devoted to the concept of the Constitution’s “original intent,” including the Founders’ insistance that Congress, not the judiciary, should be the body to resolve close elections. One clerk later tells reporters: “It was just inconceivable to us that the Court would want to lose its credibility in such a patently political way. That would be the end of the Court.” As November moves closer to December and the election fracas continues unresolved, a law professor predicts that Bush’s chances before the Court are “between slim and none, and a lot closer to none.” Over Thanksgiving, the justices and clerks leave Washington for vacation, with only a skeletal staff of a few clerks remaining in town in case of emergencies. Justice Stephen Breyer says over the holiday that there is no way the Court would ever get involved in the election. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Legal action, Political strategies, Florida, US Supreme Court intervention

The Florida Supreme Court bars Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), from rejecting all post-deadline recount tallies (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000) as well as certifying George W. Bush (R-TX) as the state’s presidential winner “until further order of this court” (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000). It sets a hearing for Monday, November 20 to hear arguments on the recount dispute. The Court says flatly, “it is NOT the intent of this order to stop the counting.” [Supreme Court of Florida, 11/17/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] Harris is prepared to certify Bush as the winner (see Evening, November 14, 2000), which would give him the electoral votes needed to grant him the presidency (see November 9, 2000). With that no longer a possibility, James Baker, the leader of the Bush “quick response” campaign recount team (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), issues a public threat: the incoming Florida speaker of the House, Republican Tom Feeney, will, if necessary, take matters into his own hands and vote in an independent slate of “electors” who would journey to Washington and vote for Bush in the US Electoral College. Because both houses of the Florida legislature are dominated by Republicans, Feeney could pass just such a bill authorizing that procedure. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Bush and his campaign officials harshly denounce the Court’s ruling. Bush accuses the Court of using “the bench to change Florida’s election laws and usurp the authority of Florida’s election officials,” and states that “writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch.” However, the liberal news Web site Consortium News notes that Bush seems unaware of the duty of the judicial branch, “a fact taught to every American child in grade-school civics class—that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the laws. It is also the responsibility of the courts to resolve differences between parties under the law.” [Consortium News, 11/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Tom Feeney, Florida Supreme Court, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, James A. Baker, Consortium News, US Electoral College

Category Tags: Legal action, Political strategies, Recounts, Florida, Key Events, US Supreme Court intervention, Florida Legislation intervention

The Florida Supreme Court hears recount arguments from both the Gore and Bush presidential campaigns regarding whether Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), should consider hand-recounted ballots before she certifies results of the presidential election (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Court is “without power” to decide which ballots should or should not be tallied. At 9:45 p.m. November 21, the Court unanimously rules that the manual recounts can continue and that Harris must accept those totals in the final results (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000). The Court rules that the deadline for certifying the election is either 5:00 p.m. November 26, a Sunday, or November 27, at Harris’s discretion. Harris’s staff is caught by surprise by the ruling, downloading it off the Internet instead of receiving a copy from the Court; Harris’s plan to certify George W. Bush as president is blocked. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore welcomes the ruling, saying that both he and Bush should plan their transitions in case either is certified. [Supreme Court of Florida, 11/21/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The Court says in its ruling that “the right of the people to cast their vote is the paramount concern overriding all others.” Campaign observers have said that if the Florida high court’s ruling went the other way, Gore would concede the election. Some of Gore’s senior campaign advisors reportedly told Gore to stop further challenges if the Florida court decision went in Bush’s favor. [Guardian, 11/22/2000] Bush campaign representatives level charges that the Gore campaign is attempting to “steal” the election. Bush campaign attorney James Baker calls the Supreme Court’s ruling “unjust.” Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), who has emerged in recent days as an influential Bush campaign spokesman, threatens “some extraordinary” measures to overcome the effects of the Court’s ruling (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). [Guardian, 11/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Marc Racicot, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, James A. Baker, Florida Supreme Court

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

The Bush presidential campaign files a petition in the US Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that Florida can continue manual recounts, and that those new recount tallies be included in the final election results (see November 20-21, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote Florida election law in mandating the recount tallies be counted, by essentially changing the law after the election had occurred; they also argue that Florida judges have no jurisdiction or legal authoritiy to order Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) to consider manually recounted votes. Both arguments are considered somewhat abstruse and technical. The Bush campaign also claims, with little legal backing, that to recount the votes violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Gore lawyers say that the matter is up to the state courts, and is not a federal matter warranting the involvement of the US Supreme Court. The Court agrees to hear the case, and sets the hearing date for December 1, 2000. [Supreme Court of the United States, 11/22/2000 pdf file; Certiorari Granted, 11/24/2000 pdf file; Guardian, 11/25/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] “We believe we stand on both strong political and legal ground for fighting beyond Sunday,” says Gore campaign adviser Ron Klain. After the Court agrees to hear the case, Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team, says she is ready to certify the election for George W. Bush tomorrow night regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. “The Department of State is prepared for the earliest contingency, which would be certification Sunday evening,” her chief of staff Ben McKay says. “This will be done publicly regardless of the outcome, which is, of course, unknown at this time.” [Guardian, 11/25/2000] Many Court observers, and some of the justices themselves, are surprised that the case is being heard. The Bush petition for certiorari, or for the Court to take the case, comes to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose task it is to consider emergency motions from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Kennedy pushes his colleagues to take the case, arguing that the Court is the true and ultimate arbiter of such matters, though he concedes that the Bush petition is legally questionable. The Court’s conservative bloc—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000), and Chief Justice William Rehnquist—agree to hear the case. (Court rules mandate that the consent of four justices, not a majority, is enough to hear a case.) The case is to be expedited in a way far different from the usual sedately paced Court proceedings. The sudden urgency has Court clerks scrambling to change their Thanksgiving plans and contacting the justices they work for. The clerks for the four liberal justices, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, are dismayed by the entire situation. “We changed our minds every five minutes about whether the fix was in,” one clerk later recalls. The liberal clerks find it almost impossible to believe that any Court justice would consider interceding in what is by constitutional definition an executive and legislative matter. Justice Stevens is not convinced of his conservative colleagues’ restraint, and begins drafting a dissent from what he fears will be a majority opinion granting Bush the election. The early draft focuses on the reasons why the Court should have never accepted the case. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Florida Supreme Court, David Souter, Ben McKay, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ron Klain, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, John Paul Stevens

Category Tags: Legal action, Political strategies, US Supreme Court intervention, Florida

Gore campaign lawyers ask the US Supreme Court to deny a Bush campaign request to not count manually-recounted presidential ballots, calling the request a “bald attempt to federalize a state court dispute.” The next day, the Court will agree to hear the Bush petition (see November 22-24, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Florida

The clerks for the four liberal justices at the Supreme Court—John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—continue their speculation as to whether the Court will actually attempt to decide the presidential election ((see November 20-21, 2000 and November 22-24, 2000), especially in light of Florida’s recent attempt to certify George W. Bush as the winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). At a November 29 dinner attended by clerks from several justices, a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor tells the group that O’Connor is determined to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to go ahead with manual recounts of election ballots (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). One clerk recalls the O’Connor clerk saying, “she thought the Florida court was trying to steal the election and that they had to stop it.” O’Connor has the reputation of deciding an issue on her “gut,” then finding legal justifications for supporting her decision. Unbeknownst to anyone outside the Court, O’Connor has already made up her mind. Gore lawyers in particular will spend endless hours trying to craft arguments to sway her vote, when the actual case will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who originally wanted to accept the case. Many clerks of both liberal and conservative justices have little respect or regard for Kennedy. They consider him, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “pompous and grandiloquent.” They believe he fills his office with elaborate, expensive decorations and trappings, including an elaborate chandelier, to give the idea of his power and importance. “The clerks saw his public persona—the very public way in which he boasted of often agonizing over decisions—as a kind of shtick, a very conspicuous attempt to exude fairness and appear moderate, even when he’d already made up his mind,” according to the Vanity Fair article. Conservative clerks suspect Kennedy of untoward liberal leanings, and have taken steps to ensure that the clerks he receives are ideologically sound. One liberal clerk later explains the conservative justices’ reasoning, saying, “The premise is that he can’t think by himself, and that he can be manipulated by someone in his second year of law school.” By now, Kennedy is surrounded by clerks from the hard-right Federalist Society. “He had four very conservative, Federalist Society white guys, and if you look at the portraits of law clerks on his wall, that’s true nine times out of 10,” another liberal law clerk will recall. “They were by far the least diverse group of clerks.” The conservative and liberal clerks do not socialize with one another as a rule, so it is unusual when, a day after the clerk dinner, Kevin Martin, a clerk for conservative justice Antonin Scalia, visits Stevens’s chambers. Martin went to Columbia Law School with Stevens’s clerk Anne Voigts, and he wants to see if he can explain to her the conservatives’ judicial point of view. However, two other Stevens clerks, Eduardo Penalver and Andrew Siegel, believe Martin is on some sort of reconnaissance mission, attempting to find out what grounds Stevens will cite to argue against overturning the Florida decision. Penalver and Siegel believe Martin is trying to manipulate Voigts, and Martin, after telling them to “F_ck off!” storms out of Stevens’s chambers. Clerks from O’Connor’s staff pay similar visits to other liberal justices, though these conversations do not end so contentiously. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] O’Connor said to partygoers when the news networks announced the election for Al Gore, “This is terrible” (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000).

Entity Tags: Eduardo Penalver, Anthony Kennedy, Anne Voigts, Andrew Siegel, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., David Souter, US Supreme Court, Vanity Fair, Sandra Day O’Connor, George W. Bush, Florida Supreme Court, Federalist Society, Antonin Scalia, Kevin Martin, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Legal action, US Supreme Court intervention, Media Coverage, Florida

The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Bush presidential campaign’s challenge on constitutional grounds of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on selective manual recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The case is Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board. Throngs of protesters surround the Supreme Court building. Inside, the justices’ questions indicate that they are divided on the legality of the Florida high court’s intervention, and some justices seem to think that Florida courts should resolve the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “We’re looking for a federal issue.” Justice Stephen Breyer asks, “What’s the consequence of our going one way or the other now in this case?” Observers will later describe Laurence Tribe, an experienced Supreme Court litigator representing the Gore campaign, as listless and flat, while Theodore Olson, arguing the Bush campaign’s case, is “more impressive.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia give the impression that they believe the Florida Supreme Court encroached on the Florida legislature’s bailiwick. Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) express their irritation with the Gore arguments. When the arguments are over, the justices meet in chambers for the usual conference. At one end of the argument is Scalia, who wants to overturn the Florida decision and in essence award George W. Bush the election, and at the other, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wants the Court to stay out of the case altogether. Neither justice can command a majority among the other seven. Rehnquist begins drafting a ruling asking the Florida high court to clarify its ruling, to cite the state constitution in its decision (which the Bush team had argued would have been improper), or under state law (which the Bush team had found arguably permissible). All nine justices eventually sign onto Rehnquist’s opinion. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will observe: “The unanimity was, in fact, a charade; four of the justices had no beef at all with the Florida Supreme Court, while at least four others were determined to overturn it. But this way each side could claim victory: the liberal-to-moderate justices had spared the Court a divisive and embarrassing vote on the merits, one they’d probably have lost anyway. As for the conservatives, by eating up Gore’s clock—Gore’s lawyers had conceded that everything had to be resolved by December 12—they had all but killed his chances to prevail, and without looking needlessly partisan in the process. With the chastened Florida court unlikely to intervene again, the election could now stagger to a close, with the Court’s reputation intact, and with Bush all but certain to win.” On December 4, in a setback for the Gore campaign, the Court unanimously sets aside the Florida Supreme Court ruling and remands for clarification the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/4/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Florida Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, US Supreme Court, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Laurence Tribe, John Paul Stevens, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Vanity Fair, Stephen Breyer

Category Tags: Legal action, Political strategies, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

The Bush campaign seeks stays in the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court regarding the acceptance of 43,852 “undervote” recounts in Florida counties. Most importantly, the Bush campaign also asks the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which would declare its candidate the winner of the Florida presidential election. Both the Florida Supreme Court and Eleventh Appeals Court refuse to issue the stay. Most observers believe that if the recounts are completed and their vote totals tabulated, Democrat Al Gore will win enough votes to win Florida, and thusly become president. Currently Republican George W. Bush has a mere 193-vote lead (see December 7-8, 2000), and recount totals from Miami-Dade County alone are expected to give Gore more than this amount. One example of the problematic situation in Florida is with Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, where claims of massive African-American disenfranchsement and discrimination (see November 7, 2000) have already tainted the balloting. Duval has 4,967 undervotes, but they are mixed in with 291,000 others, all stored in boxes in a vault. The all-Republican electoral board, as seen on national television, has begun examining ballots, but as The Guardian observes, “with such painstaking reluctance to proceed, it amounted to an effective filibuster.” Democratic spokeswoman Jenny Backus tells reporters, “What we’ve heard is that they’re going to try to slow this down by every means they can.” However, the US Supreme Court issues the requested stay and the undervote tabulation stops. The Court does not issue the requested writ of certiorari. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/8/2000 pdf file; Supreme Court of the United States, 12/9/2000 pdf file; Guardian, 12/10/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The divide among the nine US Supreme Court justices is plain. The five conservative justices, led by Antonin Scalia, have since December 4 been circulating memos among themselves and their clerks, bouncing various arguments off one another in what the liberal justices’ clerks feel is an attempt to audition and solidify their arguments in favor of overturning the Florida high court’s decision and giving the presidency to Bush. The four liberal justices, led by John Paul Stevens, have long felt that the Court had no business being involved in the issue, that it was instead up to the Florida judiciary and legislature to settle the matter. Stevens, writing the anticipated dissent for the minority, has to ask the majority for more time to complete his dissent, so eager are they to issue their ruling. When Scalia sees in Stevens’s dissent the line that says, “counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm”—a direct rebuke to Scalia’s earlier argument that the Florida recounts would do “irreparable harm” to a Bush presidency—Scalia inadvertently delays the proceedings to write his own angry rejoinder, which reads in part, “Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” Scalia’s nakedly partisan stance discomfits even some of the other conservative justices’ clerks and angers the liberal clerks. “The Court had worked hard to claim a moral high ground, but at that moment he pissed it away,” one later recalls. “And there was a certain amount of glee. He’d made our case for us to the public about how crassly partisan the whole thing was.” After Scalia finishes his rejoinder, the Court issues its stay, stopping all further recounts. Gore himself, unaware of the arguments and partisanship dividing the Court, still holds out hope that one of the conservatives—O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy, perhaps (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000))—can be reached. “Please be sure that no one trashes the Court,” he admonishes his staffers. Gore decides to have campaign lawyer David Boies instead of Laurence Tribe argue the campaign’s case in the upcoming arguments, perhaps hoping that Boies, more moderate than the outspokenly liberal Tribe, might win some support from either Kennedy or O’Connor. Boies has also been representing Gore in Florida, and can presumably reassure the justices of the fundamental fairness of what is happening there. The liberal clerks have no such illusions. What hopes they have now are pinned on the press. One has heard a rumor that the Wall Street Journal is preparing to publish a story reporting that O’Connor had been overheard at a dinner party expressing her opposition to a Gore presidency; that report, the clerks hope, might force O’Connor to recuse herself from the decision and tie the court at 4-4. However, O’Connor has no such intention. Gore’s lawyers, aware of O’Connor’s statements, consider asking her to recuse herself, but decide instead to restrain themselves in hopes that she will, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “now lean toward them to prove her fairness.” [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Wall Street Journal, County of Duval (Florida), Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, The Guardian, John Paul Stevens, Laurence Tribe, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, Florida Supreme Court, Jenny Backus, Antonin Scalia, David Boies

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

Florida Judge Terry Lewis orders that Florida counties complete their manual recounts by 2:00 p.m. December 10. Lewis’s ruling comes in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court ordering immediate “undervote” recounts (see December 7-8, 2000). Before Lewis’s deadline can be reached, the US Supreme Court will issue a stay of the Florida high court’s ruling (see December 8-9, 2000), rendering Lewis’s deadline moot. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Florida Supreme Court, Terry Lewis, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

As per a Florida Supreme Court ruling (see December 7-8, 2000), Florida counties begin a statewide manual recount of “undervote” ballots before the US Supreme Court issues a stay halting the recounts (see December 8-9, 2000). [Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Florida Supreme Court

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Florida

An artist’s rendition of the nine Court justices hearing oral arguments in the ‘Bush v. Gore’ case.An artist’s rendition of the nine Court justices hearing oral arguments in the ‘Bush v. Gore’ case. [Source: Authentic History]The US Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in the lawsuit Bush v. Gore on the Florida recounts and election results. The Bush campaign has challenged the legality of a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating the recounting of “undervote” ballots (see December 7-8, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that manual recounts violate the Constitution’s mandate of equal protection. Gore lawyers argue that the overriding issue is the importance of counting each vote cast. By the afternoon, the public is hearing the arguments via audiotapes. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s most hardline conservatives, drew criticism when he said in an earlier opinion that the majority of the Court believed that George W. Bush had “a substantial probability of success,” a conclusion disputed by other justices such as John Paul Stevens. Scalia now says that he is inclined to vote in favor of Bush because, he says, “the counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm [to Bush]” (see December 8-9, 2000). [Guardian, 12/11/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Kennedy Determines that 'Equal Protection' Is Key to Reversing Florida Decision - Al Gore’s lawyers, led by David Boies, believe that one of the Bush team’s arguments is flawed: the idea that the Florida Supreme Court exceeded its bounds restricts one appellate court far more than another appellate court is willing to condone. Unbeknownst to the Gore lawyers, Justice Anthony Kennedy agrees with the Gore team on this issue. Kennedy has no intention of finding in favor of the Gore position, but he does want the other four conservatives on the bench to come together behind the Bush argument that using different standards for ballot evaluation in different counties violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution, an argument that most of the justices, litigants, and clerks have not considered up until now. As a practical matter, enforcing a single standard of ballot evaluation among the disparate Florida counties would be virtually impossible. And the Court under the leadership of Chief Justice William Rehnquist has, until now, been reluctant to interpret the equal-protection clause except in the narrowest of circumstances. Neither the Bush nor the Gore lawyers had given that argument a lot of attention, but it will prove the linchpin of the Court’s majority decision. As oral arguments proceed, and Kennedy pretends to not understand why this is a federal argument, clerks for the liberal justices find themselves sourly amused at Kennedy’s pretense. “What a joke,” one says to another. When Kennedy cues Bush lawyer Theodore Olson that he is interested in the equal protection clause as an argument—“I thought your point was that the process is being conducted in violation of the equal-protection clause, and it is standardless”—Olson quickly pivots and begins building his case under that rubric. Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter use the equal-protection argument to suggest that the best and simplest solution is simply to remand the case back to the Florida Supreme Court and ask it to set a uniform standard. Breyer has been working for days to convince Kennedy to join the four liberals in sending the case back to Florida, and for a time during the oral arguments, believes he may have succeeded. The liberal clerks have no such hopes; they believe, correctly, that Kennedy is merely pretending to consider the option. “He probably wanted to think of himself as having wavered,” one clerk later says. A brief private chat with Scalia and his clerks during oral arguments may have swayed Kennedy back into the fold, assuming he is wavering at all.
Demands for Identical Standards among All Florida Counties - Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) rails at Boies over the idea that the 67 counties cannot all have the same standards of ballot evaluation, and shows impatience with Boies’s explanation that for over 80 years, the Florida courts have put the idea of “voter intent” over identical ballot identification standards. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: David Souter, David Boies, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, Stephen Breyer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, George W. Bush, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, John Paul Stevens, Florida Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

In a 79-41 vote, the Florida House of Representatives, under Republican leadership, votes to approve 25 electors to the Electoral College (see 12:00 p.m. December 8, 2000) to cast Florida’s votes for George W. Bush (R-TX). Two of the 79 votes cast for the elector naming are Democratic. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] After the US Supreme Court rules against the recounts and gives the election to Bush, the Legislature abandons the idea of naming an independent slate of electors (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Florida State Legislature, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Florida Legislation intervention, Legal action, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

The US Supreme Court issues a ruling in Bush v. Gore (see December 11, 2000) that essentially declares George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of the Florida presidential election, and thusly the winner of the US presidential election (see Mid-to-Late November 2000). The decision in Bush v. Gore is so complex that the Court orders that it not be used as precedent in future decisions. The 5-4 decision is split along ideological lines, with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) and Anthony Kennedy, two “moderate conservatives,” casting the deciding votes. In the per curium opinion, the Court finds: “Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional… we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed.… It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.” The decision says that the recounts as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court suffer from constitutional problems (see December 7-8, 2000). The opinion states that differing vote-counting standards from county to county and the lack of a single judicial officer to oversee the recount violate the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The majority opinion effectively precludes Vice President Al Gore from attempting to seek any other recounts on the grounds that a recount could not be completed by December 12, in time to certify a conclusive slate of electors. The Court sends the case back to the Florida Supreme Court “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.” Four justices issue stinging dissents. Justice John Paul Stevens writes: “One thing… is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer adds that “in this highly politicized matter, the appearance of a split decision runs the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the court itself.” [Per Curiam (Bush et al v. Gore et al), 12/12/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Drafting Opinions - After oral arguments concluded the day before, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that if they were to remand the case back to Florida, that order must go out immediately in light of the approaching deadline for certification of results; Stevens quickly wrote a one-paragraph opinion remanding the case back to Florida and circulated it, though with no real hope that it would be adopted. The five conservative justices are determined to reverse the Florida decision. For the rest of the evening and well into the next day, December 12, the justices work on their opinions. Stevens prepares the main dissent, with the other three liberal justices preparing their own concurrences. Stevens and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg find no support whatsoever for the equal-protection argument, and say so in their writings. Justices Breyer and David Souter give the idea some weight; Souter says that the idea of uniform standards is a good one, but these standards should be created and imposed by the Florida judiciary or legislature. Stopping the recounts solves nothing, he writes. It soon becomes apparent that neither Kennedy nor O’Connor share Rehnquist’s ideas on the jurisdiction of the Florida court, and will not join him in that argument. Kennedy writes the bulk of the majority opinion; as predicted, his opinion focuses primarily on the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The liberal justices and clerks find Kennedy’s reasoning that stopping the recounts is the only way to ensure equal protection entirely unconvincing. Anthony Scalia circulates a sealed memo complaining about the tone of some of the dissents, asking that the dissenters not call into question the Court’s credibility. (His memo prompts Ginsburg to remove a footnote from her dissent commenting on Florida’s disenfranchised African-American voters; some of the liberal clerks see the incident as Ginsburg being bullied into compliance by Scalia. Subsequent investigations show that thousands of legitimate African-Americans were indeed disenfranchised—see November 7, 2000.) Kennedy sends a memo accusing the dissenters of “trashing the Court,” and says that the dissenters actually agree with his equal-protection argument far more than they want to admit. When he has a line inserted into his opinion reading, “Eight Justices of the Court agree that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy,” some of Stevens’s clerks angrily telephone Kennedy’s clerks and accuse them of misrepresenting Stevens’s position. They demand that the line be removed. Kennedy refuses, and Stevens rewrites his opinion so that he is no longer associated with the position. Kennedy is forced to rewrite the statement to say that “seven,” not “eight” justices agree with his position. One of Stevens’s clerks, Eduardo Penalver, tells Kennedy clerk Grant Dixton that what Kennedy had done was disgusting and unprofessional. Breyer and his clerks are also unhappy about Kennedy’s assertion, but take no action. The line prompts many in the media to claim, falsely, that the decision is a 7-2 split and not a 5-4. The main document, a short unsigned opinion halting the recounts, is written by Kennedy. Two portions are particularly notable: Kennedy’s assertion that the ruling applies only to Bush, and not to future decisions; and that the Court had only reluctantly accepted the case. “That infuriated us,” one liberal clerk later recalls. “It was typical Kennedy bullsh_t, aggrandizing the power of the Court while ostensibly wringing his hands about it.” Rehnquist, Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas join the decision, though Scalia is unimpressed with Kennedy’s writing and reasoning. Reportedly, he later calls it a “piece of sh_t,” though he will deny making the characterization.
Lack of Consensus - The lack of consensus between the conservative justices is relatively minor. Among the four liberal justices, though, it is quite pronounced—though all four wish not to end the recounts, only Stevens has a strong position and has stayed with it throughout the process. Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer were far less certain of their opposition, and resultingly, their dissents, unlike the impassioned Stevens dissent, are relatively pallid. Some of the liberal clerks say that the four’s lack of consensus helped the solid conservative majority stay solid: “They gave just enough cover to the five justices and their defenders in the press and academia so that it was impossible to rile up the American people about these five conservative ideologues stealing the election.”
Final Loss - Gore, reading the opinion, finally realizes that he and his campaign never had a chance with the five conservative justices, though they had hoped that either O’Connor or Kennedy would join the four liberals (see (November 29, 2000)). He congratulates his legal team, led by David Boies, and commends it for making it so difficult for the Court to justify its decision. Some reports will circulate that Souter is depressed over the decision, with Newsweek reporting that he later tells a group of Russian judges that the decision was “the most outrageous, indefensible thing” the Court had ever done. He also reportedly says that had he had “one more day,” he could have convinced Kennedy to turn. However, Souter will deny the reports, and those who know him will say that such comments would be out of character for him. For her part, O’Connor will express surprise that anyone could be angry over the decision. As for Scalia, some Court observers believe that his open partisanship during the process will cost him any chance he may have had to be named chief justice. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: David Souter, William Rehnquist, David Boies, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Florida Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, Grant Dixton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Eduardo Penalver

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Legal action, Recounts, US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

Al Gore giving his concession speech. His running mate, Joe Lieberman, and Gore and Lieberman family members look on.Al Gore giving his concession speech. His running mate, Joe Lieberman, and Gore and Lieberman family members look on. [Source: Authentic History]Vice President Al Gore is out of options after the US Supreme Court halted all Florida recounts (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He orders his Florida recount committee to suspend its activities. At 9:00 p.m., Gore, accompanied by his wife Tipper, his vice-presidential running mate Joe Lieberman, and Lieberman’s wife Hadassah, gives a nationally broadcast speech. He tells the nation he accepts George W. Bush as the legitimate 43rd president of the United States. “This is America, and we put country before party,” he tells viewers. For his part, Bush pledges to deliver reconciliation and unity to a divided nation in his acceptance speech, saying “our nation must rise above a house divided.” However, Bush immediately indicates that he will seek to reform Social Security and Medicare, two issues guaranteed to cause division among Americans. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: Hadassah Lieberman, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Joseph Lieberman, US Supreme Court, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Mary Elizabeth (“Tipper”) Gore

Category Tags: US Supreme Court intervention, Key Events, Florida

George W. Bush taking the oath of office.George W. Bush taking the oath of office. [Source: White House/ Wally McNamara]George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, replacing President Bill Clinton. Bush is sworn in after a tumultuous, sharply disputed election that ended with a US Supreme Court decision in his favor (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He takes the oath of office on the same Bible his father, George H.W. Bush, used in his own 1989 inauguration; the oath is administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In his brief inaugural address, delivered outside the US Capitol, Bush asks Americans to “a commitment to principle with a concern for civility.… Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” In words apparently chosen to reflect on the criticisms surrounding former President Clinton and his notorious affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Bush says, “I will live and lead by these principles—to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.” He continues addressing the American people, saying: “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” At a post-ceremonial luncheon, Bush issues a series of executive orders, some designed to block or roll back several Clinton-era regulations. He also acknowledges that because of the election turmoil, many Americans believe “we can’t get anything done… nothing will happen, except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.” He then says: “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done. Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America.” [New York Times, 1/21/2001]
Thousands of Protesters - Thousands of protesters line the streets during Bush’s ceremonial drive to the Capitol, a fact not heavily reported by many press outlets. Salon reports, “Not since Richard Nixon paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1973 has a presidential inauguration drawn so many protesters—and last time, people were out to protest the Vietnam War.” Though Capitol Police refuse to estimate the size of the crowd lining the street, Salon reports that “many thousands of protesters were in evidence.” Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the umbrella organization that helped coordinate the protests, says: “The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process. They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.” Some of the people on the streets are Bush supporters, but many more are not, and carry signs such as “Bush Cheated,” “Hail to the Thief,” “Bush—Racism,” “Bushwhacked by the Supremes,” and others. The crowd, though outspoken in its protests and unrestrained in its heckling of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is generally peaceful, and no serious violence is reported, though a few minor altercations do take place, and large contingents of police in riot gear—including personnel from every police department in the District of Columbia as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from departments in Maryland and Virginia—are on hand. At least one protester throws an egg at the limousine transporting Bush, Cheney, and their families to the inaugural ceremonies; perhaps in response to the protests, Bush breaks with tradition laid down by earlier presidents and does not walk any large portion of the parade route. Nine people are arrested for disorderly conduct, most for allegedly throwing bottles and other debris. Bulter says: “Of course, we’re ashamed that Bush has decided to be a ‘uniter’ by uniting people against him. They all chose to come out in the freezing rain—even the weather couldn’t stop these people.” Protester Mary Anne Cummings tells a reporter: “I think it’s important to remind the incoming administration the country does not want a right-wing mandate. They did not vote for a right-wing mandate.” [Salon, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001; New York Times, 1/21/2001] Thousands of protesters march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities as well. [CNN, 1/20/2001]

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