The 2000 election shattered faith in the system for many.
Watching HBO’s TV movie “Recount” was like having to reset a bone that didn’t heal properly. It was all there: Florida’s controversial hanging chads and dents of ballots in the 2000 presidential election decided upon by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Recapping that legal nightmare finds Republican Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifying the election closed, declaring George Walker Bush the winner while recounts were under way in several counties. Florida’s Supreme Court ruled the recount could continue.
Enter the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in an unprecedented move, agreed to take up the election states’ rights case. The court reversed the Florida Supreme Court’s recount ruling, citing constitutional problems. Gore legal advisers concluded it was impossible to address the constitutional issue. In too short a time, Gore conceded and the 25 electoral votes went to Bush, who became only the fourth candidate in history to become president without receiving a plurality of the popular vote. The tally read Bush 50,459,211 to Gore’s 51,003,894.
Months later USA Today and seven other newspapers that paid to recount the Florida votes proved that Bush did win. However, not counted were the 20,000 illegally disqualified Floridians, most of them African-Americans.
I, like most Americans, was dismayed that nine appointed judges decided the outcome of a national election. Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissenting vote ,wrote, “Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today’s decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainly 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.”
“It may be ranked as the single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history,” wrote Alan M Dershowitz, a distinguished Harvard law professor.
I always naively trusted that the Supreme Court was truly Lady Justice, blindfolded and holding the equal scales of justice. In 2000, when she lifted that blindfold to take an unprecedented sneak peak at ugly politics, she fulfilled Justice Steven’s prophecy that the Supreme Court is no longer impartial guardians of the rule of law.
I give you President John Adam’s toast: Independence forever.