Bush v. Gore

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
It's the
Icon law.svg
To punish
and protect
Bush v. Gore
531 U.S. 98
Decided: December 12, 2000
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 John Paul Stevens' Dissent, Bush v. Gore

In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 to install George W. Bush as President of the United States. The decision was rendered a little over a month following the date of the election.[1] It reversed the Florida Supreme Court, ruling that a remedy could not be found by which Presidential ballots might be recounted — in effect, preventing a recount in a circumstance in which Bush held a lead of a little over 500 votes over Democratic candidate Al Gore.

The case was noted for its extraordinary speed. Oral arguments were heard on December 11 and the court's verdict was delivered on December 12 (with Gore conceding the following day). The justices ruled to stop the Florida recount along ideological and partisan lines. Justices William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the "conservative" majority, were all appointed by Republicans, while the "liberal" minority, Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, was composed of both Democratic and Republican appointees.

It turned out that Gore won the popular vote anyway, but Bush took the Electoral College.

It also proves that if you are a republican try hard enough, you can push through any case you want you can do anything!


Thanks to the amateurism of Florida, things were already badly confused before the Supreme Court voted on Bush v. Gore. The voting machines were completely broken did not work well, resulting in 9000 uncounted votes ("undervotes") in Miami-Dade County and perhaps 110,000 papers showing more than one vote ("overvotes") statewide[2]; and there was no clear procedure for a recount. On top of this, the infamous "butterfly ballot" (so designed to allow for a larger font size to minimize confusion) in Palm Beach County (known for its very large Jewish population) led to about 1,500 Gore voters casting accidental votes for Pat Buchanan. Time pressure was enormous to select Florida's electors to the electoral college, and this ensured it was almost impossible to set up a fair procedure to reassess the damaged ballots.

Nonetheless, the opinion of most observers was that it wasn't within the US Supreme Court's jurisdiction to overrule what the state's courts had already decided to do - Antonin Scalia et al being in other cases keen defendants of states' rights, but here using the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to overrule the Florida Supreme Court. The majority claimed that allowing ballots to be manually recounted could lead to different judgments about what was a valid ballot in different counties, because no two people would make exactly the same judgment, and therefore all votes would not be assessed identically.

The jurist Ronald Dworkin called it "one of the least persuasive Supreme Court opinions that I have ever read".[3] Dworkin judged that the split along partisan lines did not reflect the judges' usual constitutional interpretations or legal philosophies. Dworkin noted that the Supreme Court saw nothing wrong in different counties using different types of voting machines (card punches versus optical readers), even though this was arguably a far more serious violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and would certainly lead to ballots be counted differently in a systematic manner - though one that would disadvantage poor and presumably Democratic voters.

Ultimately, Al Gore was pretty much the only Democrat who accepted the judgment.

See also[edit]


  1. When Election Night Became Election Month, The New York Times
  2. Bush v. Gore
  3. Ronald Dworkin, A Badly Flawed Election, NY Review of Books, Jan 11, 2001