Supreme Court Decision

Updated March 4, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

The 2000 election will go down in history, not only for the gridlock in Florida, but also for the way in which it split the Supreme Court, which had never before stepped in to rule on a federal election. The court divided 5–4 on partisan lines in its decision to reverse the Florida Supreme Court, which had ordered manual recounts in certain counties, saying the recount was not treating all ballots equally, and was thus a violation of the Constitution's equal protection and due process guarantees. The Supreme Court essentially ruled that the Supreme Court of Florida would need to set up new voting standards and carry them out in a recount, but also mandated that this process and the recount take place by midnight, Dec. 12, 2000, the official deadline for certifying electoral college votes. Since the Court made its ruling just hours before the deadline, it in effect ensured that it was too late for a recount. In the end, tens of thousands of undervotes—votes that were never tallied by voting machines for a number of reasons—remained uncounted, casting doubt on who actually won the election. As the Dec. 16th edition of The Economist put it, “by remanding the decision to the Florida court with instructions to do something it knew to be impossible, the court ended the election but laid itself open to charges of intellectual dishonesty.” In a scathing dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “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.”

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