by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
December 17, 2010
THE SHAME OF BUSH V. GORE STILL STAINS AMERICA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Ten years ago this week, democracy and fair play got mugged by five Supreme Court justices who overruled the will of more than 50 million Americans and made George W. Bush president.
Al Gore defeated George W. Bush in the popular vote nationally by nearly 540,000 votes in the 2000 presidential election. But the contentious recount in Florida that was eventually halted by the U.S. Supreme Court gave the needed Electoral College votes for Bush to win by a 271-266 margin.
After the closest, most divisive presidential election in American history, it came down to a mere 537 votes out of 101,455,899 cast. And it took a dubious court decision that owed more to politics than to legal precedent to seal the nation's fate.
In Bush v. Gore, U.S. Supreme Court justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William Rehnquist, Antoin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - the five justices placed on the court by Republican presidents - decided that the only way to protect the equal voting rights of the people of Florida was to stop counting their votes. Of course, it didn't hurt that Mr. Bush was ahead when the justices ordered the count to stop.
At no time before, and no time since, has the Supreme Court overruled a state court's ruling - in this case, the Florida Supreme Court - on the matter of a statewide recount.
The Bush team went to extraordinary lengths to prevent a complete count of Florida's ballots - a recount that Gore was entitled to under Florida law. Through a combination of partisan thuggery, stonewalling, intimidation, legal maneuvering and media spin, we ended up with a result that by any objective measure gave us an illegitimately elected President.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Bush v. Gore altered the course of this nation's history. A cursory glance of the legacy of eight years of the Bush Administration confirms that statement.
Start with failing to take the threat of al-Qaida seriously, then using the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil as the pretext for an endless war against a shadowy enemy, then waging a preemptive war against a country that did not attack us, and finally botching the occupation of the country that hosted the organization that did attack us.
Continue with turning a huge budget surplus into a huge budget deficit, allowing obscene amounts of wealth to be transferred to the super-wealthy, packing large swaths of the federal bureaucracy with conservative ideologues, and transforming effective government agencies into feckless disasters - ultimately leading to the destruction of a great American city.
Top it all off with an unprecedented expansion of presidential power that allowed him to do what he pleased - particularly on national security issues - without Congressional or judicial oversight, and the torture, warrantless wiretapping, illegal surveillance and other constitutional violations this policy enabled in the name of national security.
This just skims the surface, but its clear that President Bush was indeed the worst president ever, and his legacy still endures. Barack Obama may have been elected President two years ago, but many of Bush's policies remain and Mr. Obama failed to even make an attempt to change them.
And little has changed about how our nation conducts elections. Ten years after Bush v. Gore, there is no guarantee that the vote you cast will be counted, or that you will even be allowed to vote. There is still no universal standard for voter registration, counting votes, recounting votes or resolving close elections.
Vote suppression and intimation have been raised to an art form by Republican candidates. And now, thanks to the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, unlimited sums of corporate dollars can be used to influence the outcome of elections.
The forces set in motion by Bush v. Gore, arguably the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case of 1857 that denied constitutional protections to slaves of African descent, have been difficult to dislodge.
The history of the past 10 years stand as a record of shame that was bequeathed to us by five conservative judges. We can't change the past, but can we summon the will to change the future?
Or are we doomed to live with the legitimization of greed, corruption, lust for power and executive arrogance that Bush v. Gore unleashed?
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph Holhut is a journalist who has been working in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books), and can be reached at email@example.com.