The Supreme Court and the Florida vote

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Editorial excerpts on the Supreme Court ruling in the Florida vote:

Denver Post:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision that we had hoped would bring some resolution and sense of national direction to the election chaos that has swirled through the past weeks turns out to be just the opposite. The fractured percuriam decision will exacerbate, rather than ease, our national division.

The court, thus, did Texas Gov. George W. Bush no favors. He has been handed a hollow victory, based more on the ill-concealed partisanship of the justices than on the merits of the law and facts. For Bush to pull a successful presidency out of the court's cynical ruling will take a miracle. To all appearances, as we write late on Tuesday night, he is soon to become our president, and we wish him well. It had been our hope, however, that he would be able to assume the title of president-elect under more auspicious circumstances.

Los Angeles Times:

In its immediate effect, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday evening would seem to deal a crushing blow to Vice President Al Gore's flickering presidential hopes. But longer term, the extraordinarily bitter set of decisions this case has generated will taint this court with disquieting questions about its distance from the partisan fray.

(A)s Justice John Paul Stevens noted in an eloquent dissent: "In the interest of finality ... the majority effectively orders the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters whose ballots reveal their intent - and are therefore legal votes under state law but were for some reason rejected by ballot-counting machines. ... 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 law."

Dallas Morning News:

The U.S. Supreme Court, seeming loath to step in and impose some order on the disorderly Florida election dispute, did so in a convoluted fashion Tuesday evening.

Befitting the deep divisions within the country, the court issued a two-faced decree. The pamphlet-size opinion said on one hand that the Florida Supreme Court's rulings allowing a recount were overruled and that any new count would have to fit a more uniform set of standards. On the other hand, the federal court said there was not enough time to do so, because Dec. 12, the day to certify electors, was elapsing even as the ruling was being handed out.

"The court said, 'You didn't use the right standard and we're going to send it back to you and by the way, it's too late," was how former Supreme Court clerk Luther Munford described the historic bunt.

In a backhanded way, it was tantamount to ruling in favor of Gov. George W. Bush, who had argued the Florida Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds by allowing a recount with widely varying canvassing standards from district to district. The federal court responded by giving the state court a task it cannot complete.

This country will recover from even this botch of an election and a hard-to-digest judicial ruling.

New York Times:

The U.S. Supreme Court has brought the presidential election to a conclusion in favor of Gov. George W. Bush, but its decision to bar a recount in Florida comes at considerable cost to the public trust and the tradition of fair elections. Our national history bears the comforting lesson that the American people's confidence in the rule of law and the stability of their institutions will not be damaged in the long run. It is incumbent on citizens and elected officials alike to respect the authority of the ruling and the legitimacy of the new presidency whether or not they agree with the court's legal reasoning. In the short term, Mr. Bush and Vice President Al Gore bear great responsibility for bringing the nation together in spirit if not in immediate political agreement. Mr. Bush needs to be gracious and unifying in victory, and Vice President Gore must master the difficult task of placing the national need for continuity ahead of any bitterness he may feel. ...

Just as John F. Kennedy carried a piece of note paper reminding him of the narrowness of his victory in 1960, Mr. Bush should keep in mind the more complicated numbers of this election. Vice President Gore got more popular votes nationally and probably in Florida as well. Mr. Bush's title to the office comes through the electoral count and through appropriate legal procedures that settled in his favor the official result of a messy Florida election. Die-hards may want to keep arguing this outcome for four years, and that makes it doubly important for Mr. Bush to reach out to the broader constituency.

Detroit Free Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared just as divided as the rest of the nation in its ruling Tuesday night that effectively settled the presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush. There was no unanimity, no ringing pronouncements about democracy, no sense that this was one for the ages.

Florida's 25 electoral votes give Bush one more than he needs for a majority of the Electoral College. He will become the fourth U.S. president to take office despite losing the national popular vote. But five weeks after the nation went to the polls, Bush got one more vote than Gore where it counted, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

San Jose Mercury News:

It fell to the nation's highest court to settle the astonishingly close 2000 presidential election. Tuesday, a bitterly divided court almost certainly delivered the presidency to George W. Bush.

It was a messy and ugly ending to a messy, ugly and not at all satisfying election, in which every dispute was settled by the narrowest of margins.

Even so, the ruling marks the end of the line for Vice President Al Gore. He should concede. He has more than had his day in court.

Gore is not the only loser in the decision. The court has damaged its stature as well.

Although there were six separate opinions, the court failed to avoid a 5-to-4 split between its conservative majority and its more liberal minority on the critical question of the ruling: Whether there could be a recount in Florida.

That the court split this way will inevitably cast suspicion that the court was driven by partisan politics.

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