Bush v. Gore, 2000

The issue at stake was a controversial recount in the 2000 U.S. presidential election and, ultimately, which candidate would become President of the United States.

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Case Summary

The 2000 presidential election pitted U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, against Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Republican. As the election results were counted, it became clear that the vote would be very close, and that the results in the state of Florida would decide the election. Bush was initially declared the winner by just a few hundred votes—a tiny margin in a state with millions of voters. However, reports of widespread problems with ballots (for instance, conflicting ballots that were designed so that people who thought they were voting for Gore ended up casting votes for another candidate) soon called the results into question.

Gore's supporters sued the state of Florida for a recount. Bush's supporters sued to prevent it. To make matters more complicated, Florida's election laws set an unchangeable deadline for announcing the final results, so the recount had to be begun quickly if it was to be done at all. When the Florida Supreme Court decided in favor of Gore, and ordered the recount to be completed, Bush appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court's Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, stated that the Supreme Court of Florida had violated the U.S. Constitution when it ordered the recount only in certain districts, and that the recount had already been tainted by shifting methods of vote-counting. Both of these, it said, violated the equal-protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court then said that there was no way to hold an acceptable recount by the final election deadline. As a result, it ordered the recounts abandoned, effectively naming Bush the winner of the national election. By the time of the decision, a month had passed since the nation had cast its ballots.

The Court's decision ended the speculation on who would be president, but it remains a highly controversial moment in the Court's history. Even the Justices themselves couldn't agree on many aspects of the case. Two majority opinions and four minority opinions were filed, each citing different reasons for its author's decision. Some people argue that the Court had no business taking on the case at all, and that it should have let the Florida Supreme Court's decision stand without comment. Others have said that the way that the judicial decisions throughout the case split along party lines—Republicans sided with Bush, and Democrats sided with Gore—provided evidence that the case was decided by politics, not by law.

The details of Bush v. Gore will probably be argued over for a long time. However, the decision was made, and history was made with it.